In keeping with my music background, this Eagles song comes to mind when I reflect on all the times I saw the kids struggle to gain friends or make headway in the small town, tight knit community I grew up in. While other children mocked and shunned these boys and girls, I would be one of the first people to welcome them to the school or town, trying to make them feel comfortable and get to know them a little better.
Guidance counselors and veteran teachers put me in a leadership position during my junior high years- so it wasn’t unusual for me to be pulled out of class late in the day to get introduced to a new student and show them around the school, figure out where his or her classes would be and let them know a little bit about our small town. In return, I became their first new friend and a resource when they felt like they couldn’t handle the struggles of being accepted or understood.
These new people introduced me to heavier forms of music than I normally listened to- shaping my tastes that last even into my current writing endeavors for music websites. They taught me that you can swim with the veteran crowd if you are willing to take an interest in school activities and show spirit plus a never give up resolve to be accepted. I learned about the joys of being in a long term relationship through them and also the heartache of breakups- even ones that seemed inconceivable.
Why would I be the one that didn’t feel like these newcomers had to prove anything to be accepted in our community? It probably has a lot to do with my giving nature and compassion for everyone. When you are shy and reserved, you want to feel comfortable in your surroundings. I could relate to what these teenagers probably were feeling- sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, and hope to make it through to the next day with at least someone who cares about them.
One of these newcomers became one of my best friends through the last two years of high school. She helped me to become more outgoing and less fearful of what other people may have to say about me- that I was a good person and if other people didn’t like it, they were the ones with the problem. I always know with this person whenever I pick up the phone we can carry on a full half hour or more conversation and it is as if time never passed us by. Another friend may live 3 hours away from me, but I know that he still carries with him a lot of the deep conversations we had about our future lives, debates on classic and current rock and the fun Christmas shopping we had one year (where we struggled to cut ourselves off from buying too many presents and giving them out ahead of time).
What I want people to think about is at one point in life, even if it’s birth, we are also a new kid in town. You may be going into a field of study that’s fresh to you, you may move into a new city, you may be breaking into the relationship market for the first time in a long time. My wife and I have to take ourselves out of the equation to look within our children and their frame of reference when they struggle with peer pressure, sustaining friendships and getting through academics.
Developing empathy isn’t easy. Listening to what others have to say about their struggle, their pain, their problems- they don’t always want you to rush in and become the quick problem solver. Often they just want someone who will be there for them at that point in time, lend two great listening ears and give them the confidence to make it to the next day. If I could erase their problems like taking a lesson plan off the chalkboard, I wish I could. I know just being there for them in their time of need means the world to them- even if it’s a small vote of confidence, a nurturing smile or a quick hug.
Make people feel important- and the reciprocity will come back exponentially.