Social Stuff

Over the last year and a half, I have read, talked and learned about the children who need to be explicitly taught certain skills in order to achieve social success.  Nowadays there is lots of talk in schools about social skills, and learning about emotions.  Empathy is the keyword of the day.  There are so many components to being social that most of us have never even thought about even though the skills or lack of, can greatly impact our daily lives.  It is Ironic in a way that the children, the people with social difficulties who are often seen to lack empathy toward others, are the ones who really need empathy from others (for someone somewhere to see things from their point of view)  They often don't get it, because they are percieved as undeserving.  Awareness is growing among those who work with children, slowly I think, but I have begun to wonder when we will carry over this knowledge and be able to apply it to people in general, to love each other faults and all.  I will be the first to admit this is not my strong suit.

This group of skills we call "social skills" is really a very large set that is affected by attention and impulse control and both verbal and body language.  For some children their impulsivity prevents them from developing friendships with classmates.  For others the bookish manner in which they speak is put offish to other kids their age, or the overly logical way they think comes through leaving others feeling like the child is insensitive or mean.   Some kids don't notice, the way many children do, that certain clothes or standards of hygene will make or break their social success, or  that others in a conversation are giving silent signals that they have had enough of a particular subject.  I know several people who's poor sense of time, or time management causes frustration for those around them and strains social ties.

In my own case, I realize now as an adult that as a child I had difficulty reading the body language of a conversation, probably first and foremost because I did not look at the person I was speaking to.   When girls do this we call it shy, when boys do this we call it disrespectful.  I think I have become better at this, but I have always found it much easier to talk when not placed in a face to face conversation.  Talking while riding in the car,or while busy with a task has always been easier.  Now, as an adult, I make more of an effort to pay attention to those little cues that say, let's move on to something else, or let's give this person a chance to speak. 

I consider myself a deeply caring person, but that is not always apparent to others.  I recall times when I have laughed when I should have cried, and I have been told I looked angry, when what I felt inside was more like anguish or distress.  One time, years ago, a person I considered a dear friend, brought up an emotional subject and I know thoughts began swimming in my head about what to say, but I just could not speak.  I also know that our relationship sort of dissolved after that.  I was in my thirties then and could feel the awkwardness of the situation, but it was like my brain was in lockdown.  On a positive note, I feel I am quite lucky to have a husband who either "gets" me, or persists in trying to understand, because this little quality of shutting down when the going gets tough is a hard one to live with, I am sure.  It is certainly cause for a great deal of frustration.

Among the multitudes of ways many people use to communicate and develop social relationships, one of the most enlightening for me was the concept of social politics.  The idea that people need to know who they can talk to about certain subjects and how much information to disclose about themselves to certain people caused me to reflect on some of my own social faux pas.  The fact that some people are very good at using information to achieve personal "gain" in the social hierarchy, (think teenage girls) was not a new one altogether, but I began to see my own social situation, while going through school, in a new light.  I realize I had assumed that because I would never say or do anything to purposely be hurtful to a friend that others felt the same, but that was not always the case for them.  Some "friends" chose social politics over loyalty and scruples, something I just could not imagine or understand.

Over the years I have become somewhat more aware of the social realm of life, and have been able to make adjustments and improve my skills. Social fate is not carved in stone.  Self awareness can really be a helpful tool for improving the social skills that do not come naturally.  I have also learned that social politics is not a skill I wish to have.   I choose my friends cautiously, and try to avoid the "high school girls" of life, the ones I had all but forgotten about till my kids began school and I began to see the same foolishness at play.  I am me.  Take it or leave it.  That's all.

I am concerned about the adult wandering the earth in any walk of life who lacks that self awareness.  He wanders about his daily business of alienating others with his need for organization so strong he tries to control situations and people and seems to be unaware that his behavior bothers anyone.  I worry about the person unable to read cues from others when her one sided conversations go on way too long, or disclosing too much personal information to eyerolls and yawns of the listener.   I am troubled by the fact that a person can keep others away unknowingly with an unwelcoming expression she doesn't even know she is wearing, or a comment that is misinterpreted by the listener as insensitive.  You know that person, the one who once you get to know you realize "Wow she is really sweet", or "We have a lot in common".

 As humans we are all social creatures on a line somewhere from introvert to extrovert either skilled or  unskilled in conversation, social norms, and social expectations.  All humans offer unopened gifts to our society, our schools, and our lives that will never be seen if we fail to look into the book, beyond the cover, past the rambling, and cast down eyes, through the angry face to the hurting heart, and farther than our immediate expectations.


Theresa said...

It is so true! I was definitely in my thirties before all of this started to make sense too. I think every time we enter a new stage of life (our kids start school) or situation (new job or town) we are thrown back to those teenage feelings, worrying about every little expression or look of disinterest, etc. we get from others. I think giving people multiple chances to show us who they really are is surely part of the process rather than that one and out judgement call. Great post Amy!

Amy said...

Exactly Theresa! Nice to know I am not alone in this :)