From our earliest memories, many know what being in the “in crowd” or being excluded feels like. Most children want friends, want to be liked, and want to be esteemed in the eyes of their peers. And a healthy appreciation and honest friendships are certainly what we all would like. But there is the other side of what we experience.
It’s “funny” that, upon looking back, we can find more meaning then we understood at the time. My memories go back to three years of age. I can remember, when we visited family and another child was there, looking for attention. Not too many years later, I remember trying to make friends with the neighborhood kids, but my sibling and they would “ditch” me, leaving me alone. Like many young kids, I cried. My sibling would return and apologize, realizing the hurt. But it would happen again. I wondered why. There is a dynamic here.
When I was preteen to a teenager, I had more friends than ever before. This memory seems to remain. A bully charged me, but didn’t do anything, just looking to see me flinch. Later, when I saw another kid, I did the same, but caught myself. Why did I behave that way? Why did I look to place “fear” in another as it happened to me? Sometimes, among friends, we took pleasure in “outing” someone who wanted to be a part of our group. Again, I found myself wondering about this. I noticed, I could be as cruel as the bullies but never felt right about it. There was a “pecking” order in life. I saw it.
In college, I noticed a certain “group” think. As any student going to college, we looked for friends, which of course we found. But, I had learned to “watch” people interacting. I noticed, when the professors would want us in study groups, again, I was in the “out.” I really didn’t want to be in any study group, preferring to learn on my own or with my own chosen friends. In those study groups, I again saw those dynamics. “They” supported ideas even if better ones were available. I would go along with good ideas, but when I suggested something different from the majority (and how did they become a majority?), there was this look in their eyes, they looking at each other. You know the expressions.
Through observations, different jobs, a career in teaching, I had the opportunity to observe these dynamics in others. In my classroom experiences, I had noticed students who were either left out of the groups, sometimes ridiculed, and some angry. Mostly, they explained, they wanted friends. They wanted to “belong.” But sometimes, even in that desire to “belong,” they wanted to rebel and be respected for that. But for all of that, their sense of self was coming from others. From the way their “world” reacted. From what they saw in their families. From “friends.” “They” had come to need others’ reactions for a sense of self. Something that started earlier in their lives.
You want to be friends, I asked one lonely student. Then you can’t “need” them I explained. You just have to be yourself, cooperate in activities, but don’t “need” their attention. If you really like soccer, then play soccer with the others, and you’ll find some friends. If you don’t, at least you got to play with them, and don’t worry about having best or close friends. Just be yourself, but not as rebelling against others. If you are yourself and want friends, without being needy, you’ll make them through participation. But there’s nothing with time alone either. A healthy balance.
Some of them got it, and without effort, friends came to them. I explained the others saw your independence and like that. Some others didn’t like this. They couldn’t understand why they couldn’t make others like them. I explained, friendship is something no one owes anyone. It’s simply people liking others, sharing ideas and/or activities, but each person being themselves. And if you have to be alone, you’re not upset. You can enjoy time alone. With others, or alone. And others “see” this self-confidence: if it’s real.
This is the difficulty so many face today. We see it in the news, on television, and everywhere else. Exercise and wear tights. Take selfies. Go on this dating site. Be popular. Get into activities so you can make friends and be popular. Makeup. Persona. How to talk. It’s all part of losing your identity. And more often than not, they don’t know how to live with alone time, not happy with themselves.
So, someone asks, what can I do to make friends? Good question. But if your sole purpose is to make friends, what will those friends be? Real friends, simply through each being themselves, come together. Oh, you like that show? So do I? I think we should spend more on the space program. Yeah, I’d like to learn more about Mars. And so forth.
Whether your children are home schooled, go to a public, private, or charter school, being themselves is number one. Thoughtful. Respectful. Friendly. Sometimes sticking up for themselves. But not desperate to be liked or included. You go out to the playground and meet with others. You join the music club or play sports after school. You have hobbies and share.
There’s an old saying that still applies today. In history past, we have time and again witnessed individuals who were different from the rest, sometimes considered oddballs, yet they were the movers and shakers than created positive changes. “They” had learned, or always knew, how to think for themselves. Like when I realized gravity is not a pail of water swung by an arm, or one can learn anything on their own. Something inside showed the way. But of course, having friends, getting married and having kids, being part of a team, is enriching. Our lives, when we are true to ourselves and are so with others, become enriched. But in honesty. For if we “sacrifice” what we understand and believe in order to make those “friends”, what kind of friends are they? And how will we feel when we are alone, having not held onto what we know is right?
But we are scared. We “see” those “individuals” who stand alone, making positive differences. They might be married, have friends, but we also see the many who tear them down. And we don’t want that, even to the point of fear/anger. So as in some of my jobs, I watched employees gathering around the one they perceived to be “in the know.” Oh, she knows how to talk, how to lead, and seems in control. I’ll go eat with her and listen to her ideas. Never mind you might have ideas just a high quality. Never mind you’ll have to continue talking “their language” for however long you are in that group. And yet, it is the true individuals, the ones who are looking to understand, who know themselves and others. And as they age, they are “okay” with who they are. They didn’t compromise their value.
This all starts young. Parents, by being themselves, loving their children, and giving them time to grow up (Sometimes, this means home schooling them in the early years or more.), but also setting ground rules, preparing them for the years ahead. It’s important that kids do not find their identities in others, but make friends while being themselves. And in those friendships, each person honest, they share time they both can appreciate. And when it’s time to go home, you don’t feel lonely. Yes, there’s give and take. Yes, relationships grow. But like one person said, to thine own self be true.
By the way, how many believe that those in those cliques are truly happy? They live, always having to perform, never ever able to express honest ideas, and always looking for attention. That’s the price of popularity, never truly happy.