The Schoolyard Mentality in Grown Adults
So this past few weeks have been crazy. Between people leaving and others going on vacation, it’s felt like running a marathon at work. Thankfully, the schedule is finally back to normal, and I’m sleeping like someone shot me with a tranquilizer dart. That’s a good thing, but it has literally consumed all my free time. I mean, I’m quite literally sleeping during 99% of my time off. I’m not sure how healthy that is, but considering my usual sleep deprived state, I think I’ll resist the urge to worry until cobwebs form 🙂
The unfortunate byproduct, though, has been radio silence on here and anywhere else I might be usually active. I haven’t really had any time to read anything online, so I’m woefully lacking in topics of conversation related to current happenings, but now that I’ve got time, I do have a couple of bees in my bonnet as a result of things seen or heard at the bar.
Just to clarify, for those unfamiliar, I’m a bartender by trade, at a small local hangout. It’s populated with regulars, for the most part, and they are an overall nice group of people. As with any large group, there’s a few persnickity people in the mix, and some that are less fun to deal with than others at times, but they’re a generally pleasant pack and make my job enjoyable.
Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been more consciously aware of the group dynamics among them than I usually am, and, as such, a very specific behavior has jumped out at me – peer pressure akin to the type seen among adolescents in the form of “schoolyard conformity” thinking. Now, this type of thing never surprises me when I see it in people under 25, because they are still young enough (college age) that I understand their still being susceptible to peer pressure and group think influences. But, when I see it happening among grown folks, especially those over 40, it strikes me as odd, to say the least. An example of this kind of behavior is an incident that recently happened on one of my shifts.
A group of regulars that often hang in the early evenings was sitting, shooting the shit, drinking, when another came by to join the fun. They are very comfortable with each other, often ribbing and poking fun at each other mercilessly, with no harm meant or offense taken. So, when the usual teasing over something silly starts, I don’t even notice really, because this is quite normal among them. For whatever reason, however, the teasing went too far this time, and someone did indeed get prickly, causing a bit of tension among them. If it hadn’t been for the topic and the resulting tension, I might not have noticed this schoolyard conformity in play.
The topic? Someone’s choice of shirt color. Seems silly, yes? These are adults, remember, but that didn’t seem to curb the very adolescent events that followed as the target of the teasing got fed up and finally vented at the teaser to lay off. This resulted in the teaser getting offended and basically declaring that the target should chill, it’s only a joke. Basically implying, if you can’t hack it, you shouldn’t hang with us. Several of the others intervened and cooled both parties off, but there was a lingering tension that never quite dissipated, even after several topic changes and what appeared to be genial interaction between all.
Now, to be honest, I was a little surprised that the target got so heated (a normally very secure person who is not easily irked), and was even more surprised that the person doing the teasing got offended rather than apologizing for unintentionally rubbing the other person the wrong way. Especially considering the teaser is often so easily and readily offended themselves. And, while this did perk my senses and draw the unusual dynamic among them to my attention, it was an incident just a short while later that truly spotlighted it.
The true eye opener was when, a short while later, a different regular, who is not among their circle, came in. The newcomer was immediately set upon by the exact same member who began the teasing of the earlier target, for the same reason – their choice of clothes! The newbie to this circle of silliness is a good natured person who rolled with the jabs, accepting the teasing without complaint – at first. But, after just one drink, they closed out and left, which is very unusual for them, and they made comment on their way out regarding their need to go home and change.
When I saw this, it angered me, for several reasons.
First, the person who initiated this is what I think of as a ‘uniform’ dresser. Their attire rarely varies from a very rigid form. It’s always some variation of the same style tee shirt, with the same jeans, same boots, vest, etc. It is obviously what they are comfortable in and no one, myself included, cares because if that’s their thing, so be it. The problem comes in when they express that anything other than their style of dress is somehow either silly looking, effeminate, or worthy of ridicule in some form. Now, don’t get me wrong, this person is not an asshole, they aren’t mean or cruel – at least not intentionally – and I believe that their teasing is just a form of bonding.
However… When they extended that teasing to someone not in their group, it crossed a line in my opinion.
The other regular is not in their social circle. Nor does that person normally spend any significant time at the bar at the same times this group tends to be there. They know each other, are friendly, and when they are in at the same time, everyone is happy and social. But I cannot for the life of me understand what would make this person think that it was ok to ridicule the other regular’s clothes like that and think that person would not be offended, whether they let it be known or not. Nothing was said by the newcomer, but the fact that they left so quickly and commented on the way out, told me very clearly that they had been made to feel uncomfortable, and, in my opinion, unwelcome in the group.
I seriously doubt that anyone in this clique (for lack of a better word) sets out to offend or hurt anyone; and I do not at all think that they intentionally exclude or try to make anyone feel unwelcome. As I stated earlier, these people are not assholes, and they are generally really nice people. But, when they get together, this group think mentality seems to take hold and the dynamic changes. Their behavior mimics that of the high school cliques in that think they are cooler than others, including the establishment of an undeclared leader who sets the tone of acceptability for all by their defacto approval or disapproval of outsiders, which is expressed by the way they treat those outsiders.
I find the whole dynamic, now that I’ve really seen it, very disappointing. These are grown adults, who you would presume had long ago outgrown such a way of behaving. And the existence of this lingering remnant of an adolescent need to belong, in the form of group think and peer pressure to conform to the group or be excluded, makes me wonder if there is any hope that anyone ever really matures past that stage.
What makes some of us grow up, embrace mature perspectives and break from pack thinking, while others do not? Is it an active choice, to cling to the mentality of adolescence and thereby cling to youth gone by? Or is it an internal, subconscious resistance to aging that expresses itself through clinging to familiar, adolescent habits and norms because they feel young?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions and I doubt I will any time soon, but I feel better having written them out and viewed them outside the cloudy, often very busy confines of my brain.
Until the next clear headed break… be well all 🙂
~ Gigi ~