The Unlovely, The Uncool
A wonderful question was left as a comment on my last blog entry here. In it I created a teaching scenario where people attend a party and contrasted the behavior of someone who is depressed vs. someone who is wallowing in self-pity. It wasn't intended to cover all possible situations and it didn't Someone wrote in asking what to do when people reject you or refuse to let you be a part of the party.
Ahhhh... why are some people easily accepted into groups and conversations and others, despite their most earnest attempts, find themselves, at best, tolerated or, at worst, rudely rejected? Now you're talking about my life! I find myself at a stage of life where I am well liked, in demand as a speaker, and considered a fun -- if eccentric -- guy to be around. It wasn't always that way.
I was one of the unlovely, the uncool. Some of that was due to my parents who wouldn't let me go to parties, have a girlfriend, or have any say about each day's schedule, what I would study, when I would study, or even if I would have a job. This was part of the reason I was terribly socially awkward -- I was never given any chance to make friends or conversation. I could go on and on but the point is: my social life was nil and the harder I tried to find a way to work my way into any circle the worse it got.
Add to that -- I was never (and will never be) tall, muscular, or handsome. I was born with a slightly crooked back, poor lungs, and I walk like a duck. When I try to run it reminds onlookers of the time the mule got in the fermented apples. I was never allowed to play sports since I was expected to be at the beck and call of my dad, but had I tried for sports it would have been a bad day in Black Rock. A bad day, indeed.
Hang on... I have a point coming....
So, from one of the unlovely and uncool, here are some observations and ideas.
1. Being uncool is probably temporary. Unfortunately, it might not be. I believe Psalm 139 tells us that God built us on purpose, forming us in His mind before He forms us with His hands. That means you are not a mistake. God needed you, built just as you are. Remember: nobody gets all the gifts, but everybody gets at least one. Remember this, too: You get the gift God needs you to have, not the one you might have chosen for yourself. Remember the parable of the talents? What matters is that you play the hand you're dealt as fairly and righteously as you can.
2. Most people grow out of being uncool. They find people who will accept them and, in that environment, they lose the traits that made them socially awkward. What traits? The lack of social eptitude, the inability to read people, the low level panic that others may realize you're not one of them... you get the idea. Problem is, when you are fourteen or twenty three you can think "this is it, this is the way it will be the rest of my life." Usually, it isn't going to be like that.
3. What if it IS permanent? Then it's not time to shut things down, but to reboot and reframe. I'm not talking about a makeover, but a decision to listen to the question God asked Moses when Moses was convinced he could never do what God wanted him to do: "What is that in your hand?" Make a list of the things you "have," your qualities, talents, interests, and abilities. Be honest and do it right. Now you have something to work with. There are groups, activities, and clubs that would interest you (and you, them). The list is the set of muscles you have to work with. Get better at those things. You will also get more interesting and more powerful as you do so. Think about Bill Gates. Look at him. You think recess wasn't hell on earth for him? You think he got out of high school without being dumped by every girl in the tri-county area? But who's laughing now? Take the highest paid basketball star or hip-hop recording artist today and they're paupers compared to Gates. Hmmmm....
4. If you ARE at that party, here are a few tips. First off, don't try to be interesting. Find other people interesting instead. Ask them a few questions about themselves and react carefully, kindly. Don't keep asking questions, though. Just create a place where they are free to talk about themselves or free to walk away. If they are free to go they often choose to stay. If they feel trapped they WILL find a way to get away from you. Keep your distance, physically and emotionally, unless and until you are invited to step closer. Be the kindest, gentlest person in the room. It will pay dividends. Eventually.
5. Yes, the prettiest girls often go with the worst guys, but most girls don't stay dumb forever. Create a reputation -- you are the person who is steady, kind, and reliable. Boring? Sure! But after a few disasters, boring begins to look pretty good. (you think I'm Mister Exciting? Bah! My spiritual gifts are (1) sitting still and (2) losing my train of thought... but I still got the prettiest girl ever!). And ladies, it is true that men are so full of hormones and so full of themselves that they overlook your inner beauty and charm. I'm sorry, but the fact is that men are idiots. We all know it. Most will get tired of cotton candy and marshmallows eventually. Those who don't tire of fluff aren't the ones you want to be around anyway.
6. Those who accept who they are and then accept others for who they are usually find friends. Proverbs is full of advice on how to chose friends, form community, and keep from being foolish. Read it -- a few verses at a time. When you find yourself in there, make the necessary corrections.
You know what? Even though I am a popular speaker with some bookings as far away as 2009 (but not many), I still don't go to parties. I found out something: I'm not that kind of person. It took a few decades but I found out that I was really pretty happy being who I am. I don't "do" buddies and pals. I like walking with my son, my wife, and Jesus. I like talking on the phone with my daughter and I like to read. I like blowing raspberries on the belly of my parrot and listening to her laugh herself silly each time. I like people as long as they stay back a little bit. Odd, isn't it? For years I was upset that people wouldn't let me into their groups. Now I don't want in. Maybe God was trying to tell me something all those years ago: I'm not a group person.
What is God trying to tell you? Start with the way He made you, with the gifts He gave you, and with whatever is in your hand. Go from there with gentleness, humility and grace.