Our Conscience Bows


A Ph. D. candidate, who intentionally combines several topics in her dissertation and cooks a chopsuey dish, sneakily hopes that her committee members cannot understand her comprehensive work, thus must let her pass her defense. Such a motive is ugly, as previously mentioned.

Our interest in this tea essay now turns to: what might her reaction be, had she been pointed out of her scheme?

At a 90% probability, she would focus on vehemently justifying her own actions. Yes, all the topics are well connected. Yes, there is innovation in her work. Yes, there is contribution of her work to the society. Yes, her dissertation is a qualified one.

Most likely, she would not attempt to explain if her motive had existed or not. Most likely, if she had an influential faculty member as her dissertation advisor, she would be protected and would be safe. This issue would be simply brushed away, as the dust on the table would be. Nobody would bother to pursue it.

Pursuing it benefits nobody. The department would lose a Ph. D. graduate. She would be very sad. Her future would be destroyed. The accuser would be hated. And if her work had happened to constitute a part of the progress report for a funded project, the principal investigator of the project would be held responsible, too.

Alas, very often, the truth is concealed or brushed away, simply because revealing it, seemingly, benefits nobody.

Furthermore, the harder we are able to prove the truth, the more easily it will be brushed away or buried. In this case of Ph. D. candidate, only her own conscience, nothing else and nobody else, is able to prove/know if a scheming motive did exist in her mind.

In the case of creating a complicated promotion system in this charity organization, it is even harder for us to prove if those leaders have had a motive of enjoying power to a certain extent. What power? You may ask. Are they not all volunteers? How can the leaders possess power over volunteers? If I do not like the work, I quit. What can the leaders do to me?

There are at least two types of bread: material and spiritual.

It is true that, when I quit from a volunteering organization, I will not lose my material bread. But I will lose my spiritual bread, if my life is deeply intertwined with many social activities held by this organization.

Sometimes, we know well that the spiritual bread is as important as the material bread, if not more. In addition, many of my family members, relatives, and friends are also members of this organization. If I quit, I will alienate myself from them, too.

(Incidentally, we therefore realize that, if leaders are willing to lead well, what a powerhouse can they create!!)

It is already sufficiently questionable to enact a promotion system in a charity organization. But Tim is not a rigidly unreasonable person. OK, he will try not to mind living with the existence of a promotion system. A simple one will be fine, then. For example, how about, say, 3 years? After a new volunteer has joined in the organization for 3 years, she can be promoted to the next higher level, and thus given heavier responsibilities?

If the leaders themselves also frequently participate in the outreach activities, they should have had ample opportunities observing these candidates' performances, and therefore should be able to judge if their contribution deserves the promotion?

But unfortunately, this is also a part of the problem: these leaders mostly stay inside internal places, conducting meetings, reporting, planning, reviewing, and other social activities. Only occasionally, they get out to do actual legwork. So, a simple promotion system is not possible.

( During these internal activities, due to the packing order and the power of evaluation, they receive flattery attention from lower-rank volunteers. And who does not enjoy receiving flattery attention? )

In a battle, when 80 out of 100 soldiers go to the frontline to fight, 20 stay behind planning some logistical affairs, we can understand that the task sharing seems balanced. But when numbers are reversed -- only 20 out of 100 do the real fighting, 80 are staying behind at the planning tables, are we not wondering if there is something inappropriate?

(At the planning tables, they also devote a substantial portion of their effort to handling the promotion of those fighting solidiers. It is not enough if you only do the fierceful fighting. You need to search the dead bodies of the enemies, to see if there are cash and valuables in their pockets, and to bring your findings back. The quota is $3,000 for your promotion.)

But nobody can read these leaders’ minds and prove that they primarily enjoy the attention they receive during the internal activities, (inevitably degrading the compassion/relief work to the secondary mission). Only their own conscience can tell.

It usually takes courage and willpower for us to allow our conscience to win, by admitting that we have made mistakes. (what the heck, nobody can prove I have made mistakes anyway!) It takes even further courage and willpower to change our old practice to the new one, because this change can be drastic, and may affect our own comfort, convenience, habits, enjoyment, interests, or even careers, or futures.

Often than not, unfortunately, our conscience bows to the latter.

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