Day 132: Who am I in a Group? Clashes of cultures

This blog-post is a continuation to the blog-post Day 131: Who Am I in a Group?

Memory 2: High School Group

My high school was quite a small school. Partly because after grades one and two we were split over two different locations dependent on the direction of study we chose. General Secondary Education students would remain in the same location, whereas Technical, Physical and Professional Secondary Education students would from third grade onwards go to a different school in the same town. (We count grade 1 to 6 for primary education and then again grade 1 to 6 in secondary education) Yet, even within that, the amount of General Secondary Education students was so small that we would all be merged together as one group for certain classes. So those doing Latin, Natural Sciences, Languages, Economics - would all be together and form a group of about 20 to 30 people. I can't remember exactly how big my group was, but it was more towards 20 or less.

Anyhow - as a group we got along quite well - there weren't really any issues between anyone, but there were 'clicks' of friend-groups - where some people you hung out with a lot, other sometimes and others you barely knew. Until in grade 5, I think, 4 guys from the grade above us had to double after pulling a stunt of trying to calculate their end-grade before the final exams and then somehow coming to the conclusion that they wouldn't need to study for those exams - that they were 'safe' - so they had to find out their calculations were wrong and had to double. When they came into our group - there was a complete change, because their attitude was completely different from ours. As a teenager you kind of choose what kind of style of teenager you want to be - the alternative, the good student, the macho (I suppose that would align with 'the quarterbacks' in the US), etc. As you pick your style, you tend to hang out with the people of the same style and kind of create your own little sub-culture based on clothes-style, music preference, values, etc. I picked the 'alternatives' group as a teenager - which about half of the group would be part of - and then the other part was mostly the 'good students' type. Both didn't clash though. Then the kids that doubled were added to the group - and they were the 'obvious macho' type - loudmouthed, showing off, making stupid jokes about girls vs guys. And none of us were impressed with it. We thought our mellow group experience was ruined by the addition of these 4 'clowns'.

Our interaction was then mostly in terms of snide comments towards each other and making fun of each other - or just plainly trying to ignore each other - that was the best way we could interact. Interestingly - when alone with one of the 4 guys, I was mostly able to talk to them quite okay, find a point of connection or a topic to have some kind of a conversation about. But with two or more - the macho-pose would be assumed and the connection would be 'broken' again.

In that same year, we went on a 'reflection' weekend (Christian school...). So - for these two days we went to some other location and an outside-person would be leading the weekend, guiding us through activities and trying to get us to open up about ourselves, reflect on ourselves and our relationships with others in the group. There was one exercise where we were sitting in a circle and he asked each one to put one object in the middle of the circle that we hold dear and to explain why that object and what it feels like to let go of it for a moment. Most people picked something silly/superficial - an object they like for sentimental reasons. Then it was the turn of one of the macho-guys. He was considered the 'leader' among the macho-guys - the 'uber-macho' - lol. When it was his turn, he said "I always wear a mask, and it's not me - and for this weekend, I want to put that mask in the circle and not wear it." The person guiding the activity made some comment about 'how deep' that was, but didn't further go into it. The group, me included, had a point of 'yeah right, he's just making fun of this whole 'reflection' thing' and didn't pay much attention to it. Anyway - the weekend was quite fun, but nothing really changed.

Our math teacher went with on the week-end as well. He was a young teacher that somehow we became friends with. In a conversation with me he talked about the week-end and how he saw that more could have been achieved - that there had been moments of opportunity, such as the 'I will not wear my mask' moment - that the leader of the weekend didn't use to open things up properly. This teacher was also a basketball coach and out of interest into the topic of group dynamics related to that, he had studied the subject and learned skills in terms of changing group dynamics. So - he offered the group to organize a second weekend - one for three days - it would be optional, no one would be forced as was the case for the reflection-weekend and he said he would specifically work on group dynamics. In the end - everyone but one guys signed up to go and so we went.

Our math teacher was far more skilled and educated on the point of group dynamics and organized all kinds of cool activities with challenges, after which he would share his observations. He really astounded us in terms of what we were allowing ourselves to participate in within the group without even being aware of it. During this weekend - we also saw people that had always remained on the background - literally not saying a word, except for a whisper to their best friend - suddenly open up. In one of the activities, we were divided into small groups and were supposed to solve some kind of mystery where we were given tools and some clues. It is within this activity that I was with two of those people. A guy that I had already known to be very funny as I had found a point of connection with him before about a funny series we both watch. He would often sit behind me in class and then once in a while I would lean back and we would exchange some quick laughs. He was not part of the 'alternative' group, but of the 'I am a good student' group - which I suppose you could call the 'nerd' group. He was very shy, got harrassed sometimes and apart from some friends, kept to himself. The other person was the girl that never spoke a word. Within this exercise - she started suddenly making jokes. We were struggling with the solving of the mystery and none of us really cared - I was so shocked by the change in the girl's behavior and the guy joining in - that we left the assignment altogether and just started having fun and ended up laughing our asses off. From that moment - these two people never crawled back into the background - but were visible and actively participating within the group.

The 'highlight' of this memory is still to come - will continue in my next blog...


Day 131: Who Am I in a Group?

Recently an interesting point opened up for me in relation to: who I am in a group. Within walking process, as a Destonian, we become part of a community, a group of individuals based on the principles we commit ourselves to live by - a group of individuals that walk and apply these principles individually, yet together. The group is a continuous point of stability, support and cross-reference for each one that is part of the group - yet the group cannot exist unless the individuals within it continue to participate within the principles of the group. Within being part of this group, I've had experiences of anxiety come up in relation to the group suddenly being 'gone' or disintegrating. In speaking to my partner, I realized that these anxieties were memory-based - fuelled by memories of previous experiences of being part of a group. So, I'll write about the most prominent memories that define my expectations and fears in relation to being part of a group and walk the Self-Forgiveness and Self-Corrective application process on each one, so that who I am in a group is no longer defined by memories and so that I don't create unnecessary expectations, anxieties and fears that would influence my experience and participation in the group.

Memory 1: Best Summercamp Ever

From when I was about 6 years old, my mother sent me on summer camps. I say 'sent me' because it was her initiative and I would sometimes feel that she forced me to go so I would learn to eat more than just rice, sausage and eggs, but I remember that when she suggested it to me initially, that I was actually quite excited to do this. It would always be right before the trip that I would experience a sudden resistance to go and then I would plead my mother to please just keep me home, and not make me go - but then she'd say that there was no choice because she had already paid for it, I had told her I wanted to go and so now I had to go. Anyhow - with these camps I would always be so shy initially - just one girl among a bunch of strangers, strange kids and strange adults. I would generally get annoyed with the adults who would act exceedingly excited about going on this trip - acting happy and nutty when most of us, the kids, were just uncomfortable and scared. I knew they were trying to 'lift our spirits' and destract us from leaving our parents, but I would always think it made it worse.

First, on the bus - each time it was hoping that I would end up sitting next to someone 'nice' - so that I had someone to talk to and immediately could make friends - that way, by the time we'd arrive to the camp site I was already not alone anymore. I would hate it when they would ask if there is someone we wanted to make sure to share our room with, and everyone had friends they wanted to bunk up with except for me and some other 'alone' kids - so, I made it a point to make sure I would already have someone I could say I wanted to share a room with by the time we arrived at the camp site. For the first few days, I would then spend time mostly with that one person. It didn't actually matter if we really got along or if we would really become friends - it was just to have someone by my side. Often, as days passed, I would part from that person more and more and start spending time with people I found I could be friends with.

These camps then generally followed the same pattern in terms of 'group dynamics' - initially we were all just individual children or little groups of children being in one place, doing things 'together'. But this 'togetherness' was more each one agreeing to 'play along' as though we were a group - without actually being one. As time progressed and we would all get to know each other better and start having fun - this 'group-feeling' would start growing - like, suddenly it is no longer just individuals - there are the individuals and then there is the group. By the time the camp was reaching its end this 'group-feeling' would reach its peak - where we all felt that we were part of something, together had been through something. The bond between the individuals and the group would be different/stronger it seemed than those I had with my friends from school - because with school-friends, I would see them in school, then go home and then only the next day see them again. On the camps, you lived with the other kids and adults for over a week - waking up together, having breakfast together, doing all kinds of activities together, having lunch and dinner together, showering at the same times, brushing your teeth together, going to sleep together. All the moments that you usually go through in a private way - that your school friends are not part of - I would share with these kids on camp. So - in a way I would feel a lot more 'at home' after about a week, among a group of children and adults that I barely knew, then among my school-friends.

Then right at the peak - the 'height' of this group-experience, the camp would be over. We would all exchange addresses and promise to write letters to make sure we keep in touch. Then it was on the bus and back to the parents. Fascinatingly - no matter how much the kids had expressed that they wished the camp would never end, because it's so much fun and the group is awesome and we should stay friends forever - by the time we were in the parking lot where the parents were waiting to pick up their kids - the kids would say to the adults: "okay bye, thanks so much" - the kids turn their backs and run off to their parents and go home.

I would always be 'heartbroken' after a cool camp and generally would be sick for a few weeks afterwards in having to suddenly adjust to normal life - where everyone that had made part of what I had come to call 'home', was suddenly gone. I would want to tell everyone about all the things I did and what happened, but most would only listen with half an ear and it seemed like I never could really bring across what it had been like - what I had experienced - what I had lost. And that made me feel extremely lonely. Initially I always tried to keep in touch with the kids I had become closest to on the camps in a desperate attempt to hold on that feeling of belonging, of togetherness from camp, so I would write them letters, but then I either wouldn't hear back from them, or when I did, they would talk about all the things they are doing in their life now, which I was not a part of and it just made me feel even more disconnected from them.

So all of this was 'generally' the case - lol.

Now there was the one camp - and this is the actual memory I meant to write about - it was a camp in Bruges (Belgium) where we all took our bicycles and every day would go cycling to different places and then play games in cities. That to me was the best summercamp ever. I think I was about 13 at that time. I remember in the beginning looking at the adults that were joining us - there were 4 - and based on what they looked like - already deciding that I hoped to be with two specific adults in the group. It would usually be 2 adults for a group of about 10 to 20 children. The decision was based purely on their looks - they were a guy and a girl that looked 'pretty' - they conformed to the picture of what 'cool people' apparently looked like. The other two adults were women, clearly older and they were also quite heavy - so it seemed that the most dynamic duo would be the young girl and boy. When I arrived at the campsite and we were devided in to the groups - I ended up in the group with the two women. So - I was immediately quite disappointed and thought this would be the worst camp ever, lol. But oh my, was I mistaken - those two women were amazing with us and after a few days it was clear that I was lucky being in their group. They would act nutty and funny, but would also be directive and stern when needed, yet fair. I found that often with the very fun leaders, they would not be very directive and would also mostly interact with the confident kids, not worrying about the more shy ones leaving left out. These two women, though, were able to strike a perfect balance - attending to every child and pulling each one together in the group-feeling.

At some point during this camp I actually sprained one of my ankles quite badly. On a different camp, I would have probably used it as an excuse to not have to participate in some of the activities, but this time, I refused to have a cast put on. One of the two women responsible for my group was a nurse and when she looked at the ankle, she'd said that I'd need a cast. I'd had a cast before and I'd absolutely hated it, so I told her no - I didn't want it. She insisted a doctor should come out and when he came, he luckily had a solution - it was relatively new at the time, but he suggested a cast made from plastic with air cushions that I would be able to take off. It was quite expensive then, so they called my parents to find out if it would be okay if they bought it and sent them the bill. My parents agreed and I was so glad that I didn't have to skip on any of the cycling rides and, apart from running, was able to participate in everything quite well. Towards the end of the camp, the same women, the nurse - fell. It was during a 'party' where we all got to dress up and dance to music. She was dancing with someone, mis-stepped, fell to the floor and dislocated her hip. She immediately forced the hip back into the joint and was then taken to the hospital. The pain had been quite intense, so she had been lying on the floor screaming and crying. Most of us kids were in shock to see her in that pain and the party ended in tears after she was taken to the hospital. When she came back, it was her wearing the cast and walking on crutches.

When the camp was at its end and the bus took us to the drop-off point - one of the organizers of the, well, organization, that, well, organizes these trips - lol - was present at the scene and this person had not been with on the camp, but just assisted in that moment. The person was flabbergasted, because instaed of the usual site - the kids running off to their parents and slopily waving goodby to the camp-leaders, all the kids kept standing by the bus and didn't want to leave - half of the kids were crying that the camp was over and kept clinging to the camp leaders, not wanting to go home with their parents. The person asked the camp-leaders 'what the hell did you guys do with these kids on this camp??' Lol.

And still now I find it hard to explain what made this camp so different from other camps. Maybe it was how each one in the group really pushed to be part of the group and 'show themselves' so to speak. Maybe it was the tactfulness of the camp-leaders in how they structured the activities to always be a success and always fun. Maybe it was the fact that this was the first camp where everyone in the group would actually get along with each other, despite how 'different' we initially seemed. I cannot put my finger on it.

After this camp, we had a 'reunion' a few months later - and barring only 1 or 2 people, everyone had shown up - and despite what I had expected - during that reunion day we felt as much as a group as we had on camp and having as much fun together. I had expected that I would be disappointed, that the group feeling would be gone and that this reunion day would only be a bitter aftertaste of a delicious treat. But no - it seemed like an extension of it.

In the next posts, I will first continue laying out the other memories after which I'll walk them through with SF and Self-Corrective statements. Stay tuned...