Some people are “people magnets.” The people who are always surrounded by a plethora of people. Don’t you love that word, “plethora?” It means an overabundance.
In high school I envied people magnets. They were the life of the party, the center of conversations, the talk of campus. Most often, not always, they were the “beautiful” people as well. Silver spoon in their mouths. Whatever they did gathered oos and ahs.
Can you remember in school elections? There was the “not so beautiful” student that actually had their head screwed on straight. In other words, they would have actually represented the interests of the student body, making some positive changes with the administration. Then there was the BMOC (big man on campus) who would say something about promising to bring Coca-Cola to every drinking fountain along with a half dozen zany promises, none of which would be done… or could be done. You already know who won the elections because you’ve witnessed the same thing in your school where you grew up. BMOC always seemed to win. Popularity was everything. Substance was secondary. Kind of makes you think of politics in America today doesn’t it? But I digress.
The Popularity Phenomena
This popularity phenomena we’re all too familiar with. It drives much of our social life. It’s true for kids and it’s also true of adults. When you’re on the winning side, there is an appearance of ease. And if you’re not on the winning side, you might feel a litany of emotions, none of which could be described as exuberance. Perhaps better described as “less than” or “not enough” or “second best.”
Now there is a good side to these emotions. These are the ones that tend to develop a person’s character, but as a kid, the constant, reoccurring message of “not good enough” or “you don’t fit in” will take a toll. Sometimes recoverable… sometimes not.
So what do you do?
Lots of things, but here’s one thing you can do as a person and model as a parent. Look for the student on the playground that has self-separated from the rest of the kids. You’ll find them often pressed against the chain linked fence when everyone else is playing, skillfully avoiding eye contact with any and all peers. They’ll look busy, but they’re not. They’re just avoiding.
Maybe that was you as a kid. There were some times it was me. Look for the person in the break room at work. You see them. They’re not just private people. There’s more to it. There’s a lostness, a deep pain that’s visual. You can feel it. You can sense it. You need to know that this is discerned only over time and more likely over coffee and conversation. Which brings me to the “to do.”
Teach your kids to look for the “invisible” people at school. The ones who aren’t popular and the ones that avoid others. Teach them that starting a conversation with them does not equal best friend status.
But, it is a conversation. A conversation that leads to something of value. That popularity doesn’t have to be the driving value of culture. That substance matters. That they matter. That they matter to you. That they matter to God. And that’s what matters. Sorry… play on words.
And parents, you’ve got to model it for it to be real to your kids. They won’t do it unless you do… a lot. So, when are you having coffee with the invisible person in your life? You just might be the answer to their prayers. Frankly, this could be the answer to one of your prayers too.