Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From recess to pieces.

It's becoming more and more apparent than not only am I getting older, but so are the rest of my social circles. I can tell, because the circles are getting smaller and smaller. And while having less friends the older you get isn't anything new to the human life cycle, I've often wondered why; Usually attributing it to the standard rise in senility and the gradual degeneration of naivety the longer someone remains alive on this planet.

But the more I thought about it - while watching all of my friends fragment into a dozen factions and groups of 1 or 2 instead of the original 20 or so - the angrier I became. And attending Westwood as an older student (I'm almost 30 while everyone else is 19 - 22ish), I've seen first hand a condensed timeline of a typical group of friends:

Step 1: Civility.
Step 2: Common interests acknowledged.
Step 3: Time spent establishing roles (leader, wise one, quiet one, smart one, joker, etc.).
Step 4: Personal opinions shared.
Step 5: Fragmenting into groups for social events.
Step 6: Back-avenue dialogue shared between "groups".
Step 7: Rumors swirl.
Step 8: Factions are made.
Step 9: Enemies form.
Step 10: Then either back to Step 1 or a fight ensues.

"You said my financial portfolio sucked!? FUCK YOU!"
And this goes for both boys and girls, men and women. People get together, figure out where they belong, information crosses, and shit happens. Antelopes, grass and Mufasa be damned; That's the real circle of life. But what I find sad? That it's not only natural, but inevitable.

As we get older, life has more and more opportunities to give us the ability to define ourselves as individuals. And we gladly take them because, well, growing up is all about becoming self-reliant and independent. Becoming a self-contained force of life. So we take what we feel empowers us: Opinions. Opinions give us a sense of self, a sense of direction. Opinions are the needle in our compass. And that needle was given to us by our youth.

When we were young and in daycare and going to elementary school, we never had our own opinions. Not really. Nothing outside of our favorite color, we didn't like to take showers, recess was too short, and what cartoons we watched while eating our cereal. But through our random gauntlet of teachers, we eventually leaned towards which subjects we enjoyed. If we liked the teacher while we were young, we understood the subject more, and hence, we enjoyed doing what we knew. And vice versa, if we didn't gel with the instructor, we hated the class, and therefore the subject, and ultimately never really "got" that subject as well as the other ones (mine was History. Fuck Mr. Spagnolo).

And our parents - biological or not - were huge influences as well. Whoever was raising us instilled into our mind the philosophies of life. Maybe you had a strict father who told you time was the essence of everything and how, no matter what, things had to be done whether you liked it or not. Life sucks, get a helmet, and finish your job. Or maybe you had a kind and gentle mother, who constantly reminded you that there's more to life than working and stress. Relax. See the bigger picture. Focus on being happy. Or any point in between the spectrum of those extremes. Your parents are the ones that laid down the tracks for your behavior. Good or bad.

View from a fat kid's perspective while
his "friends" kick him while he's down.
When we hit our teens, our friends became the most important influence in our lives, much to the chagrin of our parents. Whoever raised you (mom, dad, grandparents, step-parents, uncle, aunt, etc) did so by sharing with you their own rules of life; The rules they grew up with and found worked for them. Unfortunately for them, becoming a teenager means becoming an individual. And if no one's prepared (few are), it ends up being hell for everyone at some point - and usually the singular phase in your life that defines your mind, body and soul.

No longer playing dodgeball and sharing sandwiches from lunch boxes and losing your thermos, sexuality bubbles to the surface. And that changes the rules to the game entirely. Suddenly how you look plays a monumental role is who you are. When you were a kid, there was basically only 4 groups of physicality:

• Fatty McFattingtons
• Four-Eyed Nerds
• EwThatGirlHasBoobs
• and then everyone else. 

But around 14 and 15, the levels between ugly and pretty get divided up pretty quickly at an alarming rate. Suddenly what color hair someone has, how they wear it, what their voice sounds like, how they walk, how they smile, what sport they play, if they play an instrument, the clothes they wear, how smart they are, how dumb they are, how good they smell, and what they drive are all factors we subconsciously take into consideration when our minds decide if we're attracted to someone. Not to mention their body. So a hierarchy is formed a round the campus, and now we're back up to my 10-Step List of how shit gets started.

From there, how we see people, how we judge people, what we find important, how we have fun, and who we avoid are all learned at lightning speed because it's crucial to our social survival. And it's these lessons - not those silly Algebra, Spanish, and Biology courses no one remembers - that are the most important to our growth. The best and most important things we learned during high school were in between classes: Break, lunch, and who we hung out with afterwards. Maybe we had bad, terrible, vindictive friends. And from that, we learned what patterns and deceits to avoid in future friendships with other people. Maybe you had a girlfriend or boyfriend who cheated on you. And that's when you learned to be skeptical if your significant other is hanging out with and calling their ex every day. Or maybe you were lucky and made great, wonderful and caring friends, in which case, you're probably still friends today and have mutually benefited from that friendship.

But I bet you don't remember what your fourth paper was about in your Freshman English class.

Point is, this is where our differences between everyone else gets ignited. High school. Becoming a teenager is the catalyst. From there it's on to college and learning about politics and history and wars and economics and love and relationships and global diplomacy and religion and... everything else that ends up being shit in this world we never agree on (because there's 7 billion of us).

And now that I'm at the age I am, I can see the clay that was once so soft and malleable in my friends slowly starting to harden and become concrete. The older we get, the harder it is to change our minds. When we're young, every day is a new lesson, a new epic drama, a new color on our palette. Our minds are soft and still able to be shaped by teachers and friends and family. Growing up, that piece of clay starts being carved into, one opinion, one lesson at a time, until you have who you are and what you believe in. Once you begin entering your 30's, it starts solidifying. This is why people who are in their 60s and 70s often seem so stubborn. You'll very rarely - if ever - hear an elderly person say, "Hmm... you have a point. I never thought of it that way. I think you're right!" I haven't. Never happens. But how often do you hear kids at school, while talking with their friends, see or hear something new and they go, "Ohhhhhhhh!" and smile? Every day.

See, the world has so many ways of turning us against each other. From music, to pro-life/choice arguments, to Republican/Democrat, to religions, to cars, to jobs, to income, to sports, and so on; Why is everything tailor-made for us as a species to pick a side against each other? I guess that's just the way it's always been. From cavemen and Indian tribes, to Roman and Greek empires, to countries and superpowers now. I suppose humans have an inner need to compete with each other to establish an ethereal sense of ego and respect. It's just a shame that it claims our innocence and friendships in the process.

I hope my heart never turns to rock.

I hope I'm always that kid on the playground, thinking, learning, and still becoming something new.

Every day.