How to Accept, Respect, & Integrate
We may wonder what life is all about, and at the end of the day, it’s about human connection and the opportunities they foster. Life is about people, and it is impossible to live a full life devoid of interaction. Relationships form, grow, and break, all which dictate the various paths life could take. Relationships that grow into friendships open up new opportunities and influence our decisions and actions. However, there are limits to the extent to which people allow others into their lives: this line is drawn by the strength of an individual’s values. More importantly, we may not realize that our values actually lead us to our relationships– and away from them.
Switching highschools in my sophomore year marked a peak in my maturity. At the time, I valued academic stimulation over my tight-knit community. Being torn from what I was used to, I was forced to adapt to a new environment. Through participating in my classes, becoming a member of the tennis team and a variety of clubs, I met a diverse group of people. I joined many groups and attended social outings and events. I appreciated being surrounded by friends and having a support system while being at school. Yet, I felt unfulfilled, like something was missing. I did not feel the same satisfaction that I did after being around my friends from my old school. I missed the heated debates over current global issues and politics as well as the heartfelt discussions we’d share. As friendships at my new school evolved overtime, I grew uncomfortable in social situations– I was shocked by their comments, remarks, and actions. I tried integrating myself in other groups, but I found that most conversations surrounded boys, drugs, parties, and gossip; at social events, many girls were vaping, taking drugs, or drinking. I could never make out with a boy I did not know. I would never dare to take harmful drugs or shots of alcohol to feel “high” or “wasted.” I never understood why these activities were so appealing, or moreso, why others enjoy them. Feeling tremendously uneasy, I could never fit in, and always asked my parents to pick me up.
Subconsciously, I gradually distanced myself from these circles at school. At the same time, I stopped receiving invitations to parties or social events. Initially, I was hurt, pondering why I was no longer included: What did I do wrong? Why don’t they like me anymore? Soon enough, I found that my expressions of discomfort and abstinence from their activities made them feel more uncomfortable than I may have realized. Not fitting in with these various groups was ok with me: I resorted to reserving my social time for my friends outside of school.
Growing more introverted through my sophomore and junior years, I felt lonely and isolated. My academic schedule was overwhelming and extremely stressful. During the school lunch period, I’d study, do homework, write my blog, or read books. Being an avid participant in class who always asked questions, I’d sit there quietly and just listen. With minimal support from those around me, this was a very difficult period in my life. But despite my sadness, those times I sat alone eventually fostered self reflection and discovery. I realized that my values will always come first, and I couldn’t allow myself to build close bonds with those who breached my basic principles. I couldn’t immerse myself in the world of high school parties polluted by boyfriend drama, smoking, drinking, and drugs– it’s just not for me, and I’d only be harmed if I participated in it. Those activities did not appeal to me, and I felt like an outsider searching for meaning in my friendships. I am not by any means hinting that my moral code is the one everyone should follow. I am not suggesting that one should not associate themselves with those practicing the activities I described. However, I am certain a trend exists between one’s core values and the relationships they choose to build and break.
Today, I am able to divide my time and create necessary space between different friends. Understanding that I cannot change others, self awareness of my values informs me where that line must be drawn. Balancing the conversations, time, and activities I participate in ensures my comfort as well as the comfort of those I am socializing with. I have grown confident in the idea that there are levels to relationships; this way, I can connect with anyone. This school year, I made the effort to maintain all my relationships, extending friendships to the intimacy of my choice. With the group of girls who attend parties on the weekends, I make time in my school schedule during the week to grab lunch with them. With friends from my classes, who I am not close with, we find joy in studying together and learning from each other. Playing tennis with various partners, I practice the sport I love while having a social outlet. And finally, with those friends I share common interests or values with, we engage in heartfelt conversations, discussing more private issues or personal conflicts. Being aware of and distinguishing between levels of friendship provides us with tools to manage our relationships– regardless if values and common interests align. With a diverse group of friends, I have grown compassionate toward others who possess beliefs different than my own. Because we are not all raised the same, we all have different experiences that shape us. Therefore, it is essential to understand how and why people’s perspectives emerge. Analyzing the words and actions of others challenges our beliefs; through reflecting and refining our personal views, our identities are strengthened. At the same time, we are able to expand our social circles and stay positive.
By deducing which activities elicit the qualities we appreciate in each person, we learn to see the best in others. Knowing we have support around us, someone to confide in or talk to, brings out personal confidence. Familiarizing ourselves with our own values and to what extent they influence our decisions, we can build bridges rather than burn them. Through life, we cross those bridges: on the other side is always another connection waiting to be developed or an opportunity to be taken.