Life seems to be filled with cognitive dissonances — those events we experience and choices we make that push us up against two deeply held ideals that are actually in conflict with each other. According to a little web research, cognitive dissonances can leave us feeling surprised, embarrassed, anxious, angry, or guilty. I usually experience one or more of the last three. In the hopes that it will somehow give you some insight and strength, I’ll share some stories.
In My Career
I am extremely unhappy with the direction that public education is taking in this country. I feel caught in the cross hairs of public disdain for the talents and expertise that I and my colleagues possess, and I am convinced that it is because men and women with political and financial motives have deliberately shaped the media and public perception for their own personal gain.
I am not completely opposed to standardized testing. In moderation, it is a valuable tool that can identify weaknesses in the public school system. In my lifetime, I have never seen the over-emphasis on “testing,” “assessment,” and “data” that has invaded the teaching world. If it cannot be measured, quantified, and shown as “evidence” of children learning, it has no value. We are no longer able to just observe if a child “gets it” and go back and help that child. We are giving tests to see if children are on track to do well for the “big” standardized test. We are giving tests to see where children are academically weak, and then we are constantly testing to see if those children are making sufficient academic “gains.” On paper, it doesn’t sound so bad. In reality, it means that children are spending so much time testing that teachers are frantically trying to make time in the school day to teach them essential skills. It means that skills that used to be required are now considered “nonessential” and teachers are being asked not to teach them because it takes time away from the skills deemed “essential.” It means that, on paper, it looks like every child is getting an individualized education, but the reality is that the quality of that education may be decreasing. The wonderful women (and men) with which I have the privilege of working are all feeling the pain: the educators I know started teaching for the children, are still there for the children, and feel like they are beginning to be forced to short change the children they love so dearly. (Or, at least, that is the impression I am receiving.)
I have never desired to walk away from my career like I have lately. I felt no joy when the new year began. I began feeling frustration at the “new order” before the students even came back. I felt like people with no knowledge, training, or understanding of what I do are forcing me to use a discipline of utmost importance to me as a vehicle for teaching “real” subjects, when the evidence clearly points to music having value to each child when it is taught in its purest forms. The frustration and the anger was beginning to destroy me from the inside out.
God is gracious, and He brought me back into balance through one experience. In my school, we have one day a week set aside where the specialists (music, art, P.E., and library) take the students for enrichment classes and allow the classroom teachers the opportunity to have guaranteed time to meet together with all of the other teachers on their grade level to make plans and discuss concerns. I noticed one particular child, and pulled her aside as the enrichment class was preparing to leave. I took the time to express to her that I truly think she is a wonderful student and a wonderful person with tremendous potential for good — none of which I would have spoken if I were not convinced it were absolutely true. I brought tears to her eyes — she must have needed to know those things badly.
So, through that one incident, my focus shifted away from all that is wrong to what I can do right for each student who enters my room. The dissonance was diminished, and I am again a positive force in the life of my students.
Recently, Mom had a medical emergency. An emergency of the kind that we, as her children, had to face the reality of her mortality and accept how close she came to stepping beyond the veil. We rallied around and made sure that someone was in the hospital around the clock with her. My brother, who has taken most of the day-to-day responsibility for Mom after Dad died, took the lead and made most of the decisions and assignments.
As the week began, I made the decision to pitch in and help wherever I could. Then, I noticed that most of my “assignments” included things like cleaning up Mom’s house and taking care of her garden, sitting with her when there was no real chance that a doctor might come through, and running errands to bring things to Mom that she requested.
Then, I noticed that I was notified of how Mom’s treatment would be continued, and no one considered that I might have opinions, too. That brought back memories of the way things were handled when Dad died.
That’s when I realized that no matter how many college degrees I have, no matter how well I survive and thrive through a divorce that has dragged out for over a decade, no matter how well I succeed in my career, no matter what I accomplish in my life — I will be viewed as the “crippled” member of my family. I will never be seen as equal.
This has been a hard cognitive dissonance to make peace with — to see myself as an intelligent, strong, capable woman and to be treated like a village idiot. I’ve had to accept that I can’t change the minds of anyone in my family, and I can’t force them to accept me. I’ve had to learn that distance can be healing, and that I don’t have to be a part of anyone’s life if it hurts me. I’ve learned to lean on my Savior for my sense of self.
For the past year, I have been involved in a friendship/acquaintanceship/relationship-of-some-kind that has been particularly difficult for me. Somehow, it managed to bring out all that is broken and ugly about me. I have needed to go back and re-think so much of who I am and why I do things. In that respect, it has been a good growing process for me.
On the other hand, I can’t seem to get on the same page with the person who is trying to be my friend, and I seem to be much more adept at causing her pain than at building her up and bringing out at that is good and wonderful with her. She has, rightfully, expressed her frustration, and I can’t escape my frustration that I’m not living up to my ideals. It has been a year or more of drama.
After a lot of prayer, thought, and soul-searching, I made the decision to go back to what is known and comfortable for me — to limit my social interactions, to find solace in the creation of music and in accomplishing day-to-day goals, and to be extremely selective about the number of people that I hold truly close in my life.
I have come to the conclusion that there are no easy resolutions to cognitive dissonance. It is a painful place to be, and will wear us down if ignored. The problem is that both sides of the internal conflict are deeply embedded. On one hand, I believe deeply that I should never seek to harm another person. On the other hand, I believe that I should always be honest. So, what do I do when the truth that I see will hurt another person if I say something? Am I helping or hurting?
In the end, making peace is a very personal and individual experience. I have shared some of my experiences in the hopes that anyone reading my blog will realize they are not alone, that we all end up in places that are less than ideal, and that sometimes, there is no perfect solution.
May Heavenly Father lead you, guide you, and help you find the peace that He promises as you work your way through this mortal life.