As a teacher, I witnessed this phenomenon almost on a daily basis. We could be happily conjugating French verbs, when one disgruntled seventh grader would put up his hand and blurt out:”Mrs. Gross, why do we have to take French anyway?” I would go into my spiel about how learning a second language forms connections in the brain that will make them less susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease when they are old, and how knowing French will be useful if they travel to Quebec or to Europe, and all of the other wonderful benefits I can think of to answer the question “Why?” It would never fail, however, that once a question about why they have to do something has been raised by one student, none of my positive answers could quell the waves of discontent as they rippled through the classroom. No more verb conjugations until I stopped answering “why” and started firmly asserting “because!”
It took me awhile to catch on, but the students really didn’t care “why”. They had just been bitten by grumpy bugs. If I tried to restore a positive atmosphere by answering the actual questions raised; the discussion would just get more heated and argumentative until chaos would break out. I finally figured out that it really didn’t matter what question sparked this collective malcontent, the debate was just a symptom of contagious grumpiness.
Why is it that negative attitudes spread so easily, while positive attitudes are squelched so easily? This phenomenon is not confined to junior high school classrooms. My two teenage daughters are a case in point. All it takes sometimes is a glance that the other interprets as confrontational and an argument will break out. In no time at all, all of the offenses committed or perceived in the last 10 years are pulled out and drawn into the argument until they are just fighting for the sake of fighting. I have to resist the urge to get pulled in, because parents are not immune to grumpy bugs either. If any medical research teams ever come up with an antidote to this affliction, they could make a fortune.
So if you feel a nasty case of the grouchies coming on, please cover your mouth. Perhaps you could help to stop the spread of this insidious infestation.