My eleven-year-old daughter started a new extracurricular activity a few weeks ago. We’re still learning the ropes and aren’t quite sure how things run. On the first day, we walked up to two women who were waiting with their children for the activity to start. I politely asked them a question about protocol and explained we were new.
I was met with annoyed facial expressions and curt answers.
Following that response with an introduction seemed inappropriate so I turned to their children and introduced myself and my daughter to them. We talked with the children until the class began. The following week, I saw the women again in the waiting area.
“Hello,” I said warmly. “How are you both doing today?” I received mumbled replies and they immediately turned back to each other and continued talking. My daughter and I talked to each other which relieved the painful sense of feeling invisible.
Last week, as my daughter and walked up to the activity, I saw the women in their usual spot. I felt a twinge of something I couldn’t explain in my stomach. It was not a pleasant feeling – perhaps anxiety, embarrassment, awkwardness? Whatever it was, that feeling made me feel like not trying anymore. I stopped my daughter several feet away from the waiting area and suggested we watch some games going on.
That is when the best possible result that could happen from this experience occurred.
I said, “Remember this.”
Remember this when you are in familiar territory and someone new walks up looking for guidance.
Remember this when you see someone on the outskirts anxiously holding her own hand.
Remember this when someone approaches you and asks a question – see the bravery behind the words.
Remember this when you see someone stop trying – perhaps he’s been rejected one too many times.
Remember this when you see someone being excluded or alienated – just one friendly person can relieve the painful sense of feeling invisible.
Remember the deepest desire of the human heart is to belong … to be welcomed … to know you are seen and worthy of kindness.
This week, as Avery and I drove up to her extracurricular activity, I felt a new feeling when I saw those women. As odd as it may sound, it was gratitude. I felt grateful they’d reminded me of one of life’s highest lessons. Author Kari Kampakis beautifully describes the concept of using people’s hurtful actions as opportunities for self-growth. She writes:
“Regardless of how anyone treats you, you stand to benefit. While some people teach you who you do want to be, others teach you who you don’t want to be. And it’s the people who teach you who you don’t want to be that provide some of the most lasting and memorable lessons on social graces, human dignity, and the importance of acting with integrity.”
The unkind treatment I received became a means to gain awareness, compassion, and connection. When I shared my story of rejection on my Facebook page earlier this week, there were hundreds of comments and private messages—some quite painful—confirming the need to belong is unmet for many people in our society. In addition to those who shared their painful stories of exclusion, there were people who shared helpful actions and roles they’d taken to be an Includer and make others feel welcome.
I was quickly reminded of the specific need our family had when we moved to a new state three years ago. On one of our first trips to the grocery store, we passed my daughters’ new school.
“I just hope I am not the only new kid in my class,” my older daughter said looking out the window. “I hope there is just one other new person.”
After a long pause, she repeated, “Just one.”
That had been my solitary prayer in the months leading up to the move … just one friend … just one kind friend for each of my girls. One person can instantly make you feel unalone, uninvisible … like you belong.
A few weeks later, my daughter met a girl at the neighborhood pool. They were the same age, going into the same grade, at the same school.
“This will be my first year there,” the girl said. “Maybe we’ll be in the same class.”
That’s when I saw the unmistakable look of relief on my daughter’s face.