When I was a child, I wanted to be in Girl Scouts. In fact, I was desperate to be in Girl Scouts. Because I was bullied by some of the other girls at school, I wanted to get into a group where I wasn’t known, where perhaps I could actually make some friends.
My mother, however, would not hear of it. If I was going to join anything, it would the Junior Catholic Daughters. In fact, she insisted that I join. Oh goody. Not only was I in class with my tormentors, I got to be in a club with them too.
And my mom insisted I also spend a week at camp with three of the girls who hated me.
As you can imagine, that did not go so well. The moment we got off the bus, these three informed me that I was not welcome to hang out with them. It was bad enough they had to share a cabin with me but I was not going to ruin their fun by tagging along.
So, since all the other campers hooked up with the ones they bunked with, I got to be at camp alone.
Actually, it was better than being bullied. Silence is always preferable to derision. I got involved in camp activities, and at the end of the week, one of the counselors gave me a Swimming Award. My classmates, since they had done nothing but hang out with each other, got nothing.
And that, apparently, was an even bigger problem. To the counselor’s amazement, the three of them took her aside to explain that I should not get an award, any award. How could she not understand that I was a social pariah who didn’t deserve anything? Especially when they had gotten nothing? I could not possibly come out ahead of them.
When people you’ve grown up with get a fixed notion in their heads about what kind of person you are, it’s well-nigh impossible to change that image—even when you become an adult.
Take, for example, a CPR class I took with a couple of women I had grown up with. At the end of the presentation, we were given a written test. It was a pass/fail test, so the actual score didn’t matter that much. All three of us passed, but I happened to do better than these other two ladies.
They complained to the instructor. The test, they said, was unfair. It was not an accurate measure of how well students knew the material. That had to be the case because they were so much smarter than I was. Therefore, it was impossible for me to have scored higher than they did.
Apparently these pre-conceived notions are part of human nature. When you read chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel, the first thing you see is what happened to Jesus when He visited His hometown. The townspeople could not believe He was something better than what they already thought of Him.
But, even more than that, in verse 3, Mark informs us that the people were actually offended at Him. Hey, who did this Jesus guy think He was that He had so much wisdom? And how could He—the mere son of Mary—perform all those miracles?
Well, it’s not so much that they objected to someone having wisdom and performing miracles. It’s that they considered Jesus less than themselves, so when He turned out to be better at something, that was damaging to their own egos. And that, you know, hurts. It’s not too surprising that they lashed out.
So . . . how do you get out from under those pre-conceived notions stuck in the heads of the folk you grew up with? The short answer is: you don’t.
The longer answer is: you don’t, and you shouldn’t even try. Instead, it is a great opportunity to practice the virtue of humility.
And that is worth far, far more than what others think of us.