I read a fascinating blog post the other day, by the wonderfully named Mummy In A Tutu, entitled Not Good Enough For Your Clique.
For such a short post, Katie covered a lot of ground and, I am sure, stirred up feelings we can all relate to.
There were the age-old anxieties and worries around fitting in, thoughts on social exclusion, and anger at those who would deliberately keep us out, or at least not make us feel welcome.
And she captured just how damn hard it can be to mix with other people, especially in a new group.
Of any age. At any age.
Especially if they seem downright rude.
More particularly, Katie talked about her experiences recently when she began accompanying her little girl to the ballet class her daughter had joined.
With one or two exceptions, she felt herself to be largely ignored by the other mums there, who chatted among themselves.
She felt segregated by these people, her fellow women and mothers, whom she felt had formed a clique.
Now I could relate to what she was saying. And feeling.
But I also had reservations about merely blaming the group, and wondering about the part we play ourselves in social situations.
Now, I am taking Katie’s post as a jumping-off point: I really have no idea whether the women she was talking about were, in fact, a coven of thundering bitches, or whether she could have tried a little harder.
But it made me think about this whole business of not fitting in.
And whose fault is it anyway!
I am Irish, and you might be familiar with the stereotype of us as one big unruly crowd of laughing, fighting – at the same time — freckle-faced charmers, full of the craic and Guinness, and bursting with conversational bonhomie.
A great bunch of lads, as Father Ted would put it.
All our wars are merry and our songs are sad … and all that kiss-the-blarney-stone, kiss-my-arse … well, blarney!
Some Irish people are like that, and loads of us aren’t. Not remotely.
We’re all sorts, like people everywhere
And it can be as hard or as easy to fit in here as anywhere else.
I have this image of people gathered around a big conversational soup pot.
And this is kind of how our society works:
You’re there, standing around the pot with other people.
You want some soup, you find a space, and you just dip in.
If you’re with people you know, you’ll exchange pleasantries as you drink your soup.
Or pointedly ignore the one you don’t like. And they you.
Plenty of others there.
Maybe you will join in the larger group conversation as you dine.
Or maybe you’re new to the parish, so what do you do?
Do you stand back and wait to be asked to dip in? Or, if you’re easy enough in yourself, just get out your spoon and work away.
Some will stand back and wait to be served. Hungry but too polite or wary of the other diners.
These get neither soup nor conversation.
They might not care, or they are a seething cauldron of unspoken resentment and anxiety.
Now some people don’t give a hoot either way, they just pile in there, dip away and dominate the situation, or at least try.
They’re loud and they’re proud.
A pain in the ass for some, the best of fun for others. They might be dominating the conversation, but at least there is a conversation.
It’s tough, sometimes, but maybe some people should just get over themselves and see a gap, or opportunity, and just go for it. Have a nice slice of bread while they are at it.
There’s soup enough for everybody
Now it might be hard for some to accept, but society does seem to be like that: you have to put out, join the conversation. Take the plunge — without of course soaking those too close by.
If the people nearest you are rude and excluding, say so, if you must, or move around to join another side gathering.
I always remember actor Gabriel Byrne and a radio interview he did years ago talking about his early days, before he became famous.
Now early in his career, Byrne had a great line in brooding, troubled anti-heroes, who of course had the women falling over themselves to de-brood him, if you like.
But here he was describing one of those parties in grotty student basements many of us of a certain age will recall, as far too many people staggered in after the pubs had shut, and crowded around a few six-packs, with the avalanches of ash falling down the mountainsides of overladen ashtrays.
Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan on the record player if it was a lads flat … enough!
Anyway, Byrne was asked, would he be there, brooding away in the corner, and the prettiest girls would soon be swooning at his feet, drawn in by his smouldering charisma?
He snorted with laughter: “Are you joking? I was just left there to brood.”
This is real life, not Hollywood, baby!
If you don’t dip in, you don’t get any soup. And you won’t be heard.
Saying no-one cares about you, or wants to hear what you have to say, is probably beside the point
They might do. They might not. Some will. Some won’t.
That’s just kind of how it is.
If you can’t accept that, and expect things to change, or torment yourself over it, we are talking anxiety and neurosis. Possibly worse.
Yes, the loud, confident voices are the ones you hear at first, and it can be hard to admit it, or you might resent them for it, but they can be funny and engaging.
But often, as things really get going, you will find yourself drifting away, and maybe you will catch a reflective, or vivacious voice, whatever it is that really draws you, and you will approach that person or sub-group.
It can depend on your mood too, I guess; sometimes loud, silly and raucous is what you want, other times you want a quick chat, a little bit of soup, and you’re off.
Or maybe you are a little brittle, and need a calming, nourishing experience.
Some beautiful soup.
Which you might or might not get at this particular tureen.
But there will be other times, other gatherings, other conversations.
It’s not always your fault.
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