12 July 2005

Cherish your enemies

People seem to enjoy vilifying others, especially those trying to be helpful.

My most vivid experience with this was in grade 12. I had a group of girlfriends and we hung out all the time. We had "Girls Night In" (GNI) where we'd rent movies, eat candy and order garlic fingers. Sometimes it was a chance to reconnect after spending too much time with our adolescent boyfriends; usually it was just a chance to be silly and girly.

Around October of that year, I remember becoming concerned about one of the girls. She ate like a bird, and exercised obsessively. I thought, "There's no way that's healthy." She would sometimes disappear to the bathroom immediately after eating.

What really struck me though, was in February when she participated in a Fashion Show/Modeling competition. I went with two other girls and the first this I noticed when she came out on stage was her knees. They were huge knobs in the middle of her legs. It looked abnormal.

I talked to some of the other girls about it. Some were skeptical, others suspicious. We all agreed to keep a weather eye.

By June, the signs (2 pages) were everywhere. The one I remember most clearly is standing at the bus stop one morning in early June. It was sunny; no one was wearing a jacket; we were all getting excited about summer and freedom. This girl, though, was wearing a wool sweater, earmuffs, and knit gloves. I also remember her mentioning how much hair would come out when she brushed it in the mornings.

After that day, a bunch of us gathered in my car after school and discussed what (if anything) we should do. Should we confront her? How? When? High school was going to be over in days. Was it worth the fuss to talk to her now?

In the end we decided to wait and talk to her after prom. There was no point in creating an uncomfortable situation for the sake of a few days.

Long story short: The day after prom, one of the girls went to the supposed-anorexic's parents and told her our suspicions. Then she left them to deal with the aftermath.

The story I heard was that the girl's parents confronted her with the information when she got home from a run. Only one of us have spoken to her since.

Now, I certainly don't approve of the snitch's method of dealing with the problem, but this is a common story.

People who express concern for other's well-being are often turned into the enemy. I'm sure I've done it, though I can't come up with a specific example (feel free to enlighten me, but be fair and just). Still, I see it all the time.

It's easy to forget that we're fallible; that we're often blind to our faults and mistakes. And then someone points them out to us. Conversely, we're sometimes hyper-aware and turn resentful when someone points them out.

So when someone says to you, "I'm concerned because..." it's so easy to turn on them and call him/her an asshole/bitch; to accuse them of not understanding or being judgmental. I've seen friendships end, my own friendships included, because of misguided pride and lack of insight. I say this a lot, it's not that people know better than you, it's that they have a different perspective because they're not you. In the long run, they may not be right, but that doesn't make their concern/advice/perspective any less valid. And I don't think that it's a good reason to treat them like shit. Exceptions do occur when the critic is callous and rude, or inconsiderate of feelings, but your own sensitivity can contribute to viewing it that way.

If all your friends are Yes-men, then they aren't real friends because they're not being honest with you.

Looking back, I don't know that our friendship with the anorexic (she later sought counseling for the disease) would have survived if we had staged a many-on-one intervention. It might have made her feel even more hostile towards us. If she got better, I wonder if she does appreciate that "telling on her" might have been the turning point -- more because I wonder what made her admit to her illness, not because I'm looking for credit.

Lani said something in a comment to a post Robyn wrote: "I want to be the "change" that a particular student needs in their life." When I first read it, I thought it sounded a little selfish, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. She wants to help students become better people -- to see their potential, to make choices that are good for them, instead of because it's what everyone else is doing. She's like that in her life outside work too. And that's how I want to be.

It sucks to think that there will always be people who turn me into the bad-guy because of that.


Branflakes said...

Yeah, it does suck that there are people who would do that. But I'd much rather lose a friend to hatred because I tried to help them, then lose them because I did nothing and they were injured or killed.

Even in less serious cases, I'd rather lose a friend by being a good friend, then keep them by doing nothing and being a bad one. The price may be high, but the reward is knowing I did what I felt was right.

minako said...

Hear, hear.

Branflakes said...

Wow. That's twice today someone has agreed with something I've said.

I'm not sure if I should get into this habit or not. :-p

Me said...

You thought it (me wanting to be the change in a student's life)sounded selfish? It wasn't about me - it was about "them" (my students) and me being able to help them on their way. It has everything to do with them and me simply being an influence.

Anonymous said...

Lani, I think if you became a teacher WITHOUT any desire to change students' lives, then THAT would be selfish. Keep doing what you're doing.

Me said...

Thank you. :)

(and I know that was you minako!) ;)

Tricky said...

Late coming in...

I think it's important to be that person, in your friends' lives, and if need be, in strangers' lives. Intro psych rears its ugly head: People will assume someone else will take care of a problem. The example in my anicent textbook was that of a woman who was raped and then stabbed to death in NYC, outside her apartment. Most of the other tennants heard her pleading, then her screaming, and each person assumed someone else had phoned the police. Or at least, hoped they did.

I'm alway going to be the person who calls the police, because there is no guarentee anyone else will. I'd rather be the fifth person that calls the cops than the person who didn't. (And much happier when i am the fifth) By that same rationele, i agree with everyone here - your friends are entitled to your caring, and expressing that care outward when the situation fits. Saying 'It's not my problem' is a Very Large Evil in my book.

Of course there are certain people that have the rhinestone cowboy syndrome - always having to be the saviour in a relationship, and therefore the dominant personality; but we don't know anyone like that, do we minako? At least not anymore...