How to Accept, Respect, & Integrate
We often wonder what life is all about. I think, at the end of the day, it’s all about the human connection and the opportunities it fosters. Life is about people. It is impossible to live a full life devoid of human interaction. Relationships form, grow, and break—all dictating 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 an individual’s particular core values. While we may not realize, these values play a critical role in drawing us into relationships—or away from them.
Switching schools for my sophomore year in high school marked a new peak in my maturity. At the time, I relished and valued academic stimulation within my tight-knit community of old friends. Being torn from that cozy environment, I was forced to adapt to a new reality. By actively participating in class, becoming a member of the tennis team and a variety of clubs, I met a diverse group of people. The groups I joined afforded me many social outings and events. I appreciated being surrounded by friends and having a support system while in school. Yet, I felt unfulfilled. Something was missing. I was lacking the satisfaction of the interactions with my old school’s friends. I missed the heated debates over current global issues and politics as well as the heartfelt discussions we’d share. Over time, as friendships at my new school evolved, I grew uncomfortable in some social situations–I was shocked by certain comments and actions. I tried integrating into other groups but found that most conversations were rather shallow, surrounding boys, drugs, parties and gossip. At social events, many girls vaped, took drugs or drank. Not quite my cup of tea. I couldn’t make out with someone I didn’t know and never understood the appeal of getting high or wasted. I felt uneasy and just not fitting in.
Subconsciously, I gradually found myself distanced from these social circles. Naturally, 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 the various activities made them feel more uncomfortable than I had realized. Then again, not fitting in with these various groups was totally ok with me. I resorted to reserving my social time for my old 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 lunch period at school, I’d study, do homework, write my blog, or read books. Being an avid participant in class who always asked questions, I’d sit quietly and just listen. With little support from peers around me, this was quite a 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 would 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 smoking, drinking, drugs or boyfriend drama—it just wasn’t for me and participating simply meant self-harm. Because those activities did not appeal to me, I felt like an outsider searching for meaning in my friendships. I am by no means inferring that my moral code is superior or one that all should follow. I’m not suggesting that one should not associate themselves with those participating in those activities. I am certain, however, of the clear correlation between one’s core values and the relationships one might choose to build or break.
Today, I’m able to divide my time and create the necessary space between different friends. With the understanding that I may not be able change others, self awareness of my own values informs me where that line must be drawn. Striking a balance with conversations, time and activities is comforting both to me and to those I socialize with. I’ve grown confident in the idea that there are many levels to relationships—thus allowing me to connect with anyone. This school year, I made an effort to maintain all of my relationships, extending intimacy to the friendships of my choice. With the group of girls who attend parties on the weekends, I make time during my week’s school schedule to grab lunch with them. With friends from class, who I may not be close to with, we find joy in studying together and learning from each other. Playing tennis with different partners, I practice the sport I love while having a social outlet. And finally, with those friends with whom I share common interests or values, I engage in heartfelt conversations, discussing more private issues, personal conflicts, politics or world affairs. Self-awareness and distinguishing between the various levels of friendships gives us tools to manage our relationships–regardless of alignment in values or common interests. With a diverse group of friends, I’ve grown compassionate toward others who possess beliefs different from 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 one more connection waiting to be developed or a new opportunity to pursue.