So many young people that I have encountered struggle to "fit in" or to "be part of the group." Some feel that something is wrong with them or that they are somehow abnormal because they are not the most popular or do not have lots of friends. A significant flaw is imbedded in this line of reasoning.
While human beings are social animals, we are not pack or herd animals. We survive or fail largely on our individual ability and actions for the most part. Humans choose to be social and function well when they are, and many function equally well when they keep more to themselves. Functioning as an extrovert with many social relationships does not necessarily make you any happier or better off than someone that maintains fewer relationships. As in almost every relationship, the quality and meaningfulness of the relationship matters most.
There are many notable examples of individuals that we would consider isolated loners who accomplished great things; Bill Gates and Thomas Edison come to mind. When Galileo hypothesized that the earth moved around the sun and not the sun around the earth, he was severely punished. When early scientists explained that the earth was not flat they were thought to be insane. Almost all independent thinkers offend conventional wisdom. If everyone wilted in the face of popular opinion or the desire to "fit in," our world would look very different and much less evolved.
Maybe if children were taught at a young age to politely say "no thanks" sometimes when risky situations arise. They might be empowered to be more dismissive of the mean people that they will undoubtedly sometimes encounter. We spend plenty of time pressuring children to say yes, to yield to our wishes. If we always expect children to yield to us as adults, we could be making them more vulnerable to saying yes to situations that maybe damaging physically, socially and psychologically.
There will always be opportunists that will exploit a young person who is almost always willing to please others, even at their own peril. Healthy people allow other people to think for themselves, to follow their own ideas and notions. Crucial to these assumptions is the right of everyone else to do the same. It can be a real epiphany to understand that each of us controls our thoughts and actions, no one else. We cannot control what others do and we cannot control what they think of us.
I am not suggesting carelessness, but rather an adaptive indifference to that which is unalterable. In other words, if you know someone that is a jerk to you, avoid them if possible and if not, dismiss their impact on your life. You do have control over how you feel. Sometimes it is okay to just say, "Who cares." Remember, all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org