I figured I should give some context for this post. I wrote this as a senior in high school for the NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing: each school nominates two students (I don’t know if it’s 2 for any school, or proportional to class size), and each student enters a live-generated piece (this) as well as ten pages of prepared writing. This was my live-generated piece; the prepared writing was a poem about love and an analytical essay about “The Remains of the Day.”
This prompt was something about writing a speech to your fellow students, and I think I end up talking about circles of friends (nice organization, but exclusive). I decided to repost this when Google came out with Google Plus, which allows you to organize friends into ‘circles.’
In assemblies, fellow students, we sit in rows, quietly, respectfully, but problematically. Let us look to our left and to our right; arranged in straight lines, we can build relationships only with the people immediately next to us. Equality would certainly be achieved—with two friends assigned indiscriminately to every person, no one can be outcasted. Is this realistic? No, nor does it pretend to be so.When we arrange ourselves to represent our actual relationships, that is, around our friends, we form clusters or circles. Most of you have experienced this phenomenon at school dances or other social function. Oftentimes, however, some people find no group—at school dances, there are those who wander forlornly, who desolately gaze though the ebullient crowd.Are you aware of this phenomenon? Perhaps to a lesser extent—indeed, when we stand stagnantly in a circle, facing our friends, we forget to turn around and look outward, to notice those wanderers. More pernicious is that we oftentimes ignore their anguish when their greetings to new acquaintances are rejected, and their hopes for new friendships are extinguished—most dangerous is that we feel powerless to help them.How are we powerless? Indeed, responses are impressively varied. Some people point out that cliques, groups, and factions define the human existence, that survival originates from our forming clans and tribes. They say that every successful clan adopts arbitrary standards for new members’ acceptances, standards that inevitably required conformism and in some cases, rejection. Therefore, the argument goes, as long as we cannot evolve beyond our instinctive need to group ourselves, we cannot ensure that no one is rejected.I do not dispute that human beings have rejected their fellow person since the primordial swamps. If a new member was neither able to gather berries nor hunt bison, she was a hindrance to the clan’s ultimate goal—survival—staying alive—and rejected out of utilitarianism. Some millennia later, society-at-large still has similar standards for inclusion, known commonly as laws. In America, for example, people conform to those laws and agree not to steal, not to murder, not to drive dangerously. Violators are cast out or punished in some way—pickpockets are apprehended, murderers are jailed, and reckless drivers are no longer permitted to be part of the subset of society that can legally drive. And yet, the basis of all those laws is still the goal to ensure survival, to ensure that the greatest number of people may live.However, our school community does not have the burden of survival—laws and security guards already ensure that the building is free of life-threatening influences. In fact, to say that cliques are not formed to preserve their members’ lives is obvious. But then, what is the universal goal upon which all can agree? If survival is no longer an issue, then are all the standards for inclusion in a clique not utterly arbitrary and possibly destructive? Perhaps one group ostentatiously rejects people who speak accented English or dress differently—let us ask ourselves: on what are those standards based? What do they accomplish? Indeed, by looking at many cases of rejection—the clique in the basketball team that ridicules the team member who has a lisp, the table in the art class that incessantly talks about calculus to poke fun at the tablemate who struggles through pre-algebra—the standards have shifted to being based on a desire to perpetrate meanness, to assert superiority.Because the universal standard of preserving life is irrelevant in our safe, self-contained school, let us replace it with another: let us have all our actions and standards be based on the desire to promote human dignity.Self-improvement is a virtue; introspection is its necessary prerequisite. However, to improve the school as a whole, individual improvements must lead to action in the community. Therefore, we must all lead in this initiative, teachers, administrators, and parents alike.Let us first realize together that when we exclude someone, we lower ourselves by basing our actions in meanness. No matter what we believe about someone’s intrinsic worth, we should at least respect our own dignities by treating them well—in the words of Hamlet, we should treat others better than what we believe they deserve, and the difference speaks only of our own generosity. Cliques and groups of friends will always exist—a community with no personal relationships bears no happiness either, just as an unpollinated field bears no grain—but members must take care to first inspect the standards of their group, to investigate whether they seek to promote dignity turn around. Then, people must face outside their circles and carefully look at the effect on the community—is the group still inadvertently rejecting others? Only constant self-improvement and refinement of behavior as a group will lead to a lasting solution.