July 09, 2008
On the playground, when teams are chosen for team sports, there is a definite picking order. The future jocks are almost always the team captains, and their sycophants are rapidly picked next to fill out the roster. Eventually the picking gets down to the kids who can’t throw or run or who are somehow deemed as “better on the other team.” Growing up, I was one of those kids.
While I couldn’t express it in words back then, I know now that there were some unwritten rules in play. Even the society of children has norms and, since mercy is a learned trait, those outside the norm were shunned and pushed aside. Much is made today of nerds, and there appears to be growing acceptance of those who aren’t mainstream. Still, it hurts to be on the outside looking in, especially when the rules aren’t published.
As an adult I have run afoul of these “unwritten rule” situations more than once. It is every bit as painful today as it was on the playground four decades ago. Any group, or organization, develops an immune system as it inoculates itself against foreign bodies - be they people or ideas. Which is all fine and dandy until you are the foreign body.
Sibylle described to me once what it was like to move to the United States, where everyone looked just like the people she’d left behind in Germany, and the bitter lesson of discovering that underneath everything was completely different. For the past 18 months I have experienced a tiny example of that, as I have tried to assimilate into a new group, a group that looked and talked just like me. A group that has rebuffed my efforts to fit in, a group that is treating me as a foreign body.
My only hope is that the next group has unwritten rules that make sense to me, that I am not a foreign body, that I am not the kid who doesn’t know to run on two outs.
For the last 18 months I have tried mightily to become part of a group only to be continually rebuffed and turned aside.