What is Right is Not Always Popular

Lisa Wright Author Blog
July 13, 2019

To quote a line from a popular 1980s Culture Club song--“popularity breeds contempt.” As a high school kid, I didn’t think much of it. I heard lyrics like “smoking in the boys’ room” and “running with the Devil,” and I didn’t do either of those things, although I was definitely thinking with a teen brain at the time and lived in the moment like all teens who have gone before me, and all teens who have followed.

On the surface, the meaning of “popularity breeds contempt” is obvious. When one becomes popular, others can turn on the popular one for a variety of reasons—jealousy, oversaturation, moving on to the next popular person or thing. As I became a seasoned adult, it began to take on new meaning. I began to realize that while many humans are “popular,” whether they sought out that popularity or not, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. One truism I often say as a veteran educator in the school world is “they love you until they don’t,” which I have observed time and again. Teachers have experienced it. Counselors have experienced it. Administrators have experienced it. Students have experienced it. Things are going swimmingly and suddenly, someone doesn’t like something someone has done or said, and all bets are off. Black and white. Either or.

For the adults in the school world, sometimes the disagreement or conflict is because of a grade a student earned in a class or a decision a teacher or administrator made at school involving discipline or consequences. Because we are all human, and because in the school world we all make decisions that affect other humans, the list of potential reasons for disagreement and conflict is endless. For students, sometimes the disagreement or conflict is something as simple as the way one kid looked at another, or a struggle over a love interest, or, very commonly, because of something one kid posted that offended another kid.

In the “real world,” the disagreement or conflict could be over a decision a boss made in firing or promoting a worker, or a family dispute at home, or a conflict over a love interest, or, too commonly, a disagreement over a call made at a sporting event or the way someone drove in front of another on the highway.

No matter the reason, conflict ensues, and often, because we are human, we dig in our heals. Side versus side. Our natural human nature takes over. For adults, “digging in our heals” can mean positively advocating for what we believe in. In the school world, that can mean parents reaching out to school personnel—teachers, counselors, administrators—to try to “make it right” in their eyes, which they should. Discourse. Communication.

In the school world “digging in our heals” can also mean taking a less positive, more aggressive route in person, via email, phone message or conversation, or, too often in today’s world, via online aggressive social media posts, with or without conversations to discuss both “sides of the story” and work through the conflict, all of which can damage a working relationship.

In the “real world,” (which includes the school world, but I digress), “digging in our heals” can mean unfriending or blocking or lashing out at someone on social media, lost or ended relationships, and, in the most extreme cases, taking matters into our own hands and making something “right” as we see fit. We see these situations play out in in the real world in disastrous and at times deadly ways in the form of beatings, brawls, stabbings, shootings, or other violence. Unfortunately for all, we also see this play out in the school world. The use of aggression and violence, sometimes deadly, to resolve conflict has become all too common, and because of the 24/7 world we all live in, we know about it instantaneously, which can feed the cycle of aggression.

Just as significantly, “digging in our heals” can also bring out in us the human desire to seek out those who agree with us. It is human nature to look for others who are like-minded. It excites us as humans to find agreement with others, to feel like we have found the “right” way to do or see something. It validates us and helps us sleep soundly at night. Laughing, communing, being together—all very human behaviors and needs. With the slippery slope and ease of social media, however, our human brains and egos can be pulled into a comforting and comfortable world of “sameness,” and if we are not careful, we can lose our way. When it comes to our worldviews and belief systems that guide our actions, “sameness” can be one of the most damaging, even dangerous, mindsets for us as humans to adopt.

“Sameness” can lead to believing that only one way is the right way, when often the “ways” are very gray. “Sameness” can lead to a lack of understanding of how others think, at one end, to outright intolerance of how others think, at the other end. “Sameness” tells our human egos that we are right, and that we hold the “popular” belief, and the 24/7 social media world confirms it for us. Confirmation bias--the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories--is real, and we all need to be aware of our actions and beliefs that play into it. Just because our human-selected group—in person or online--says it, no matter how loudly or aggressively, it doesn’t make it “right.” Sometimes, all sides are “right.”

One of the most difficult things to do as a human is to hold the mirror to ourselves and be accountable for our own actions and beliefs. To really see ourselves and own our choices and behaviors. Ultimately, we can only control ourselves—our beliefs, our actions.

As humans, we can and should stand up for what we believe in. We should seek out those who believe the same—to bounce ideas off of and to have discourse with. But we must also seek out and hear those who do not believe the same. We must seek to listen and to hear, not to argue back. It is critical that we as humans communicate about all topics and points of view, not just those that stoke our own belief systems and stroke our human egos.

In the school world and in the “real world,” this can mean having hard conversations. It means setting our human feelings and reactions aside in order to work through the conflict, no matter what the resolution ends up being. It also means opening our minds to what others think, even if we disagree, and hearing them.

In its simplest form, “popularity breeds contempt” means that while being popular has its perks—lots of friends, or followers, it also has its downside—potential “haters” who have their own self-confirmed reasons for hating. It is difficult to find a more common place to see popularity breeding contempt than in the 24/7 online world of social media. Kids see and experience it. Adults see and experience it. Many take part in it.

The school world is a world filled with humans, and it is ripe for conflict. As parents and educators, it is our duty to help kids become critical thinkers who listen to hear, and who understand that many conflicts are not black and white, and that very often there isn’t a clear “right” in a conflict. It is also our duty to build kids’ skills for navigating conflict, for listening to and tolerating others, and for understanding that sometimes our human egos and brains play tricks on us.

In the “real world,” it is inevitable that we will all encounter conflict many, many times. It is critical that we are all—students, educators, parents—cognizant of what we bring to the table and how we use it when dealing with conflict and disagreement.

Ultimately, it is not about advocating for “sameness,” and it isn’t about being “right” in a conflict. It is about being critical thinkers ourselves and developing our youth to be critical thinkers who understand the dangers of “sameness” and who appreciate the value in listening, and in choosing tolerance and conversation over violence and aggression. As parents and educators, we want kids to listen to and to learn from us. As adults, we must start by listening to and learning from each other, and we must seek to hear and understand those we disagree with the most.

As parents and educators, it is our duty to help kids navigate life, which comes with unavoidable conflict. Safe schools depend on it. Ultimately, it is these life skills kids will take with them and use long after they leave our care as educators and parents. A safer, more communicative and tolerant world depends on it.


Lisa Wright is the author of The Age of Outrage: Strategies for Parents and Educators (Amazon).

Wright is a Texas public high school counselor whose career in education began almost three decades ago and includes twenty years as a middle school/junior high and high school teacher. Wright has observed the changes in students and the educational system brought about by the advent of technology and cell phones, by educational mandates designed to help kids, and by evolving parenting styles, all of which were well-intentioned but have at times resulted in unintended negative consequences.

Wright has witnessed the evolution of schools and the educational system as school shootings have happened again and again. Wright’s experience over three decades of a changing educational landscape and her research bring a unique perspective to her discussion of modern student and school issues. She addresses those issues head-on while including ways both parents and educators can help their kids/students.

Wright promotes open discussion so that educators and parents can unite to work together to make our schools and our world safer places and our kids more resilient future adults.