Mean Girls (and Boys)

I’m walking down the stone stairs in my grammar school,
gripping the wooden banister. The bathrooms are located in the basement and we’re all walking in a row. This is my first day of kindergarten. I’m scared. I haven’t been around a lot of kids I don’t know. I look over my shoulder at the girl behind me, get up my courage and smile. She sticks her tongue out at me.

This was my first experience of someone being mean, just because. This was before we were hyper aware of bullying and the devastation it causes. I’m sure that girl was as scared as I was and making a nasty face had no physical component, but it hurt my feelings. I had tried to connect and I got snubbed. I didn’t understand and it made me feel unsafe.

Lois was the smartest girl in our fourth grade class. One day, we had a pop quiz and as usual, Lois aced it. The teacher made a big deal
out of her and at recess, a group of girls approached me. “We’re starting an ‘I hate Lois’ club,” they said. “Do you want to join?”

“Okay,” I said hesitantly. I liked Lois. She was friendly and we giggled during recess while we ate graham crackers and milk. But I didn’t want to be left out. Now I was the mean girl and I’ll never forget the look on Lois’s face when she heard about the club. She looked me in the eye with sadness and disappointment. I betrayed her. It was an “Et tu, Andrea” kind of moment.  

I felt guilty and when I got home and told my mother about it, she wasn’t pleased. “That’s not a nice thing to do,” she said. “I thought
you liked Lois. You should stop the other girls from hurting her.” When I got back to school the next day and told the girls we were being mean, we dissolved the club. I couldn’t believe I’d agreed to be a part of it. I’d made a decision that affected me so negatively, it’s one of the few memories I have about the fourth grade.

It’s easy to do something you don’t want to do so you’ll be accepted and included. But it’s also easy to stop, take a breath and be kind,
even when you don’t agree with someone. I remember a time, not so long ago, when we could have a healthy and stimulating debate with a member of a different political party. Those days are mostly gone. Today, our discussions quickly become militant, filled with animosity and aggression and accepting someone with a different point of view has become next to impossible.

I was once invited to a book club meeting where the members were
discussing my memoir. I was glad to have been asked, but it turned out to be a disappointment. Not because they didn’t like my book. They did, but when someone disagreed with the organizer’s opinion about anything, she bellowed,“No!” and went on to prove why they were wrong and she was right. She was being a bully and a mean girl and the meeting wasn’t a discussion. It was an angry monologue by someone who was being a tyrant.

This kind of domination is more prevalent than you might imagine so maybe we could start changing that behavior. We could listen to each other without trying to be right. We could stop talking and hear someone else’s point of view without interrupting or deciding what to say next before they’re finished. We could see the humanity and like- mindedness in each other instead of demonizing other people and focusing on our differences. You can be sure if you’re feeling unsafe and confused, other people are feeling the same way,
whether they admit it or not.

There’s a mean girl or boy inside each of us, a part of us that gets jealous when someone else wins. A part of that wants to shoot someone else down. A part of us that feels bad when we think someone is prettier, stronger or more talented than we are. We all feel these things but we don’t have to act out. We can stop judging ourselves for what we don’t have and other people for what they do have. It’s all an illusion anyway. No one is the perfect person they post on social media. No one is flawless and gorgeous without
spending hours with a glam squad. No one is a perfect parent or teacher. Everyone is just like you and me. Strong in some areas, weak in others. Pretty one day and not so pretty the next. Happy one moment and sad the next. Slim and toned one day, bloated the next.

If we get curious about someone else instead of jealous, if we stop making up stories about other people and how much better they are, if we stop picking at our imperfections and develop a sense of humor about ourselves, we can embrace our mean girl or boy who is simply looking for love.