Adults carry on many of the same cliquish behaviors that are common for children. They say we are who we are by the time we reach the age of seven. That’s probably very true. I encountered something that solidified this for me.
Not long ago I facilitated a two-and-a-half-day seminar at work with approximately 30 participants. Most of them knew each other, and the socialization was probably more important to each other than the topic of the seminar. They traveled to Washington, DC from various places around the country. Everyone knew one another from previous meetings, workshops, or seminars; they either comfortably inserted themselves into the various cliques around the room or were freely welcomed by everyone else. . .
. . . except one person. This one guy (I’ll call him Tony) was off to himself most of the time. During breaks or at lunch, Tony was a loner. When they broke off into groups, the other group members carried on as if Tony weren’t even there. They didn’t do much to welcome or include him, and I felt a little sorry for him. If it weren’t for the fact that I was facilitating the seminar, I would have gone and sat with Tony like I did in school. I said hi and offered some idle small talk between sessions and on breaks. I noticed he didn’t do much to make any effort to engage the others. Not that it was his fault. As the person on the outside of a clique, it’s not easy to join in.
That situation made me think back to school days and how things are with new kids. The other kids don’t typically make them feel welcome, and the new kids seldom feel comfortable enough to assert themselves to try to join the already-established groups. As a kid, I always looked at the interactions of adults and thought how much different (better) things would be and that I wouldn’t see those same types of biases. I didn’t realize then that adults face the same types of social struggles that kids face too. Adults tease and make fun of one another like kids do, and they can be pretty doggone rude, selfish, and thoughtless too. Of course, I don’t think that’s the norm. Most people step outside themselves and do a great job of being kind and collegial. Too bad everyone doesn’t do this.
Adults become the person they were as kids. Knowing this helps me to be a little more sensitive to others when I’m faced with this situation. When possible, I always try to make them feel welcome. If you ever see this happen, make an effort yourself to make outsiders feel welcome. They’ll appreciate it, immeasurably.