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...