Thursday, August 11, 2011

AuGuest: My Response to Samantha

Samantha's AuGuest post dealt with her desire and ability to not set people aside just because they are not in a group, or don't fit some kind of criteria, even though for reasons unclear she herself was excluded from a group(s) at one point.

In other words, like Zoyah, she has not let what could have been a painful experience make her too bitter to let people in. Indeed that very experience of being shut out motivated Samantha to be even more considerate people who are outside of her direct circle. (The example she gave was making sure everyone at a party feels welcome, even if she doesn't know much about them.)

I myself have often been on the receiving end of such exclusions as Samantha wrote about. From grade school all the way up into my adulthood even today, I have been left aside, not invited to the parties, or been the one that never has his messages returned. The one who sets up things to do, only to have his invitations constantly turned down, or ignored.

Only in certain situations have these experiences made me extra certain to reach out. For example, I made a vow to myself to express sympathy when someone I know loses a parent, no matter who they are, since that sympathy was never expressed to me as a child. When I get a message from anyone with whom I am on good terms I am prompt in returning it. If I can physically be of assistance to most people, I will offer to be so. These are things I would have done anyway, but I have a greater focus on them because I haven't received much of this sort of support from others in my life.

Yet those are examples that tend to present themselves. Almost as though the Universe says, "Okay, here's a test of your principles to chew on." I like to think I usually pass such tests, as graded by both the Universe and my own compass. Yet my track record is not so good when it comes to reaching out beyond a certain very narrow circle in my life.

In her post, Samantha wrote:

"Don't just brush people off because they're not part of your group."

In my own defense I do have to start by saying that I don't reject people just because they are not in my group. I pride myself on what I call my "mental inclusiveness". My belief that just about everybody in any type of demographic has something to offer the world, and potentially something to offer me. My thoughts are egalitarian. And again, there are all kinds of people that if they came to me would have a place at my table. Now ask me about how often I go out of my way to mention my table first...

Yes, part of it is that I am an introvert, and we introverts don't often like to start the conversations, reach out to strangers, or get the proverbial ball rolling on the social front. We like to be left alone at first, and we like to assume others do as well. Yet I cannot lay all of my reticent reluctance at the doorstep of my introversion.

The truth is, so many different types of people have dismissed me that it becomes easier to profile in a way. Did I specifically reject, say, cheerleaders in high school or college because that is what they were? No. Did I allow my experiences with people who were cheerleaders to define what I could expect from such people most of the time, and hence out of self preservation opt to not explore relationships with them? Yes. I did.

When you're like me you tend to take specific note of the pain inflicted upon you, and the source of that pain. Which in turn makes you far less likely in the future to give certain people a second look. Even if they are not the direct cause of your pain. Even if you know on a meta, intellectual level that they, like any stranger are just as entitled to your decency, respect and friendship as anybody else. You still do it. And then you tend to close your circle in as tight as possible in an effort to keep out the unpredictables. The new people. The ones outside of the archetypes with which you most identify. I did that and in many ways continue to do that.

Sometimes this withdrawal is in fact counterproductive or even destructive to the very ends I am gunning for. Just the other day I was talking to a close friend of mine that I knew in college, but didn't speak to much until after college was over. Through the wonders of social media we actually became close after we had lived on the same campus for years. Not during. And as I said to her only recently, one main reason for this was that she was in, (or at least appeared to be in) a different group. Another demographic. And though I never dismissed her and her friends simply because they were not like me, I also figured the safest thing to do was to not engage in such people too much, because similar people in the past had burned me. Sometimes I knew why, but usually I didn't.

Instead, in college I clung to those with a shared archetype. The artistic, theatre geek crowd. And the irony is, that crowd had just as many traitors, liars, and caddy manipulators as any other group one might associate with such low-lifes. In fact, theatre people may be more guilty of that sort of thing than most groups. But because I was arts oriented myself I allowed a false sense of safety and familiarity to dictate where and when I engaged other people. The result? Abject loneliness after a serious event in my final semester in college. My "group" had basically zero sympathy for me in my time of need, and I had little connections elsewhere.

What I would have given to have been able to flee from my theatre people in the final semester of college! Could have been to any group that welcomed me. The football players. The foreign exchanges. The pot-heads. Anybody to whom I could have gone with the simple intention of interacting and feeling valued again. Yet because I allowed my previous history with people to dictate my behavior, I had no such connections to speak of. I had held back in befriending certain types. Again, some of it was due to my being an introvert on the outside of some very extroverted groups. Yet a bigger part of it was due to simple reluctance to treat certain people better than I had been treated by others that resembled them. Others that offered no instant familiarity. I paid a huge price for that reluctance. I continue to pay a huge price for it to this day...

So I applaud Samantha and people like her that are able to reach out even when they have been excluded. Those that can be receptive to different demographics and not keep an automatic distance from them, even when they themselves have been victims of such discrimination. Those that don't require a situation involving moral imperatives before they engage certain types, like I do. Such people may not be better than me, but they probably have a better chance of getting through the bad times with smaller scars.

I'll close with something that same friend of mine told me during the conversation I mentioned earlier.

"It doesn't matter what happened back then. We are close now." 

True. And that gives me hope that it isn't too late for me to reach out even after I have been stepped on.

No comments: