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Getting the Cooties Treatment

Cliques. You’ll find them at every level of society, from inner-city gangs to high-ranking professional circles.

The social hierarchy we call cliques took a startling turn for me once. Afterward, I had to smile at the irony.

 It happened one summer when my husband and I attended a family camp. Most of the attendees looked forward to seeing old friends who lived too far away to visit except for this annual get-together. These were the camp regulars.

Then there were people like my husband and me, newbies in the group. Although the other campers were kind, we arrived feeling a bit like outsiders.  We didn’t know a lot of people. And that was okay. We understood the regulars had old friends whose lives they wanted to catch up with since the last time they were together.

My extroverted husband can walk up to strangers and start a conversation. That’s never been my strong suit.

However, one day at lunch, I remembered a saying I had heard: “If you’re in a safe place, find the loneliest person in the room and go sit with them.” That sounded like a good idea, since my husband couldn’t be there that day and I was feeling a little lonely.

 At the bottom of the camp’s social pecking order was a special set of people from what appeared to be a group home. They were socially awkward and a bit abnormal. Again, most campers treated them kindly; they just found it challenging to get to know them.

Feeling abnormally outgoing that day, I thought I could reach out and be a friend to the friendless.

One of this group was a small lady I will call Shirley. I followed her in the lunch line, chatting and comparing hearing aids. (What else is there to talk about with a stranger who is on a different wavelength?) I could sympathize with her image, since a lot of people think hearing loss also equals brain loss.

I followed this older, special needs lady to a lunch table, carefully balancing my flimsy tray of camp food. As I sat down next to Shirley, she said rather brusquely, “You need to move down. I have some friends coming.”

Whap! Like a slap across the head, Shirley blurted out what the “normal" people were too polite to say. This clique—albeit at the bottom of society’s totem pole-- wanted to be left alone in their comradery. I didn’t qualify as a friend.

Being rejected by the rejected; it stung for a bit. It’s a good thing I had a healthy sense of humor and could smile at the irony of it all.

Later, we found some couples who treated everyone the same. No more being held aloof like we had cooties. I think we may go back sometime.

What about you? Ever been excluded from a clique? Use the comment box below and tell us about it.





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