Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mean girls...?

I spent a lot of time his week with middle school kids other than my own.  Three nights coaching soccer and a full day chaperoning a youth group service and fun day is enough emersion into this age group to make a person think, “was I like this”?  My daughter asked me if I had heard a particularly harsh interaction she witnessed on the soccer sidelines.  I normally am queued into what is said, and have a good filter on what to intervene on regarding respectful team behavior and what to let go, but I hadn’t heard this exchange. One girl was mercilessly bad mouthing to two others about the mannerisms and appearance of a fourth, currently in the game. The other two laughed along, neither doing anything to douse the meanness. Players switched on the field and girl number one checks into the game, girl number four takes a seat on the bench.  “Was Xyz talking about me?”, she asks the other girls who responded, “oh no,”  looked at each other and then on the ground.  All four girls are good friends, but there was clearly a pecking order, and girls two and three were not going to disrupt the order, and take the chance that they become number four.

As grownups, most women feel they have left the mean girl hierarchy behind. But have we? Perhaps the question I should be asking myself after coaching and chaperoning is not “was I like this,” but “am I like this.”   Unfortunately, I probably do at times fall into the number two or three girl role, laughing along as the miscues of others are pointed out.  How often, like my daughter, am I the observer who see’s something is wrong, but stays in the background, not speaking up, not wanting to be pulled into the situation and draw attention to myself. How often, in real or assumed competition for resources, authority, or voice, do I overtly or subtly slip on girl number one persona, and intentionally call out my perceived flaws of others?

Middle school, rules do still have power in the adult world.  Advertisers and politicians use the harsh word to draw focus on the worst traits of their competitors. Water coolers and parking lot smoke break spots are fodder for gossip that changes instantly when the subject arrives.  Passive aggressive words and behaviors between work place, neighborhood, and even extended family cliques do exist in the grown up world.  Being in the inner circle still provides, if misplaced, a feeling of belonging. I have a work colleague who is known for her “odd” behaviors, dress, and general disheveled appearance.  She has a nickname that people will use right in front of her; with her seemingly not realizing it is her they are referencing.  I’ve heard her described by these physical appearances and quirks, but rarely if ever do I hear her described in terms of her professional accomplishments, which are many. 
Just as I feel uneasy about the negative political rhetoric of candidate bashing by their opponents, the mean gossip and harping on others weaknesses and undermining success, leaves an equally sour spot in my stomach.   To think that I contribute to the circle of meanness, through participation or silence, is even worse. Any contribution weighs down my energy to resolve a problem, or create something new, so it is not an altruistic realization. I wish I had really learned it in middle school. Owning that belongs in my new frame of reference.

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