In October, a former leader sent me a paper she wrote for a college class (and gave me permission to share it) – about her first retreat as a middle school leader:

Have you ever been around a person that just gets on your nerves?  Everything they do manages to drive you crazy, no matter how small or insignificant it might be. For me, the group of people that always rubbed me wrong were middle schoolers. I just never connected with them or understood them, even when I was their age.  Recently my opinion of them changed for the better when I actually made an effort to get to know them for myself, and this has changed the way that I interact with those people that I do not like and typically avoid.

I was always one of those children who acted more mature than the other kids that were my age.  When I was in middle school, the actions of the other kids always puzzled me.  Why did the girls always go to the bathroom in large groups?  Why are they always involved in so much drama?  If they would just stop acting so childish and petty, they wouldn’t have as much drama.  The girls wouldn’t get teased and bothered by the boys if they would just stop giggling and flirting all of the time.  At least that was what I thought until two years ago, when my opinion of them started to change.

When I was seventeen I was a student leader in a youth group for high school students.  There was also a youth group for middle school students, but I always avoided them whenever both of the groups had activities together.  I had put up with them for three years and I was perfectly content to have nothing to do with them for the rest of my life.  The middle school group was very low on leaders so my youth pastor approached me about helping out and becoming a leader for the younger kids.  I was very much against it when she first brought it up.  I had barely tolerated them when I was younger, so why would I want to put myself in a position where I would be uncomfortable and annoyed all of the time?  My youth pastor was very persuasive and after some thought, I decided to give it a trial run.  I decided that if I did not like it after a few weeks, I would just stop going.  Then no one could be mad at me because I gave it a chance.  It seemed like a good plan, after all I knew what they were like.  I knew they would rub me the wrong way like they always did, at least that’s what I thought would happen.

I was dreading my first day as a leader.  I was expecting whiney brats to be running around and constantly driving me crazy.  And while they were usually running around due to a sugar high, they weren’t quite what I was expecting.  They seemed to be less superficial than I remembered, and this intrigued me.  I reluctantly decided to go on a weekend retreat with a group of them a few months after I started volunteering.  This was the first time I would be with them for an extended period of time, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised that weekend.  Although the sugar high was even worse when they were away from their parents, they were a lot more fun than I thought they would be, and the occasional sarcastic jokes that they made were kind of endearing.  They were laughing and teasing each other the whole weekend and they started to remind me of myself when I was younger.  I started to consider the possibility that they might not be as awful as I thought they were.  Maybe there was more to them than I had thought. 

There was a time every night that weekend where we discussed different things that they were going through in their personal life.  This was when I started to get to know them on a more personal level.  One of the girls in my group talked about how she was teased for her beliefs at school and how sad and isolated it made her feel.  She didn’t have many friends that would support her at school, and was unsure of how to deal with it.  Another girl shared about her difficult family life.  She talked about how her father’s year long deployment to Afghanistan affected the rest of her family.  More responsibility was given not only to her, but also her mother, who basically had to be a single parent for a year.  This in turn put even more pressure on the entire family, and created problems that had not been there before.  Then her dad would come home, and the family dynamic would have to change yet again.  One thing that all of the girls struggled with was their self-image.  All seven of the girls in my group were struggling to accept themselves and believe that they were beautiful.  They believed that all of the other girls in the group were pretty, but that they were the one ugly duckling.  Once I started listening to them talk about their personal life, my perception of them started to change even more. 

I began to see how whatever the girls were going through in their personal life affected how they acted and related to the world.  This made me think about the girls that I knew when I was younger.  Perhaps the reason that they were constantly obsessed about how they looked was because they felt that they weren’t as pretty as the other girls.  Maybe some of them thought they were not worth anything if a boy did not find them attractive.  And just maybe the reason the boys tried to show off their muscles and act macho was because they wanted to be seen as someone strong, someone that has what it takes.  All of them just wanted someone to tell them that they were good enough.  The things that they did started to make sense the more I thought about it.  They were just trying to get approval from others, just like everyone else does.  Once I started looking past the small things that they did to the reasons that they did them, I started to be less judgmental.  I realized that everyone does things that may annoy someone else.  You just have to look past their actions and you can usually see why they do certain things.

This way of thinking started to change the way that I viewed other people that I had always avoided before.  After I got back from the retreat, I started to look more closely at the people around me.  I thought about a girl that I knew that no one liked because she was constantly rude and couldn’t take criticism, no matter how kindly it was meant.  I started to talk to her more and get to know her, and I learned that she didn’t have a very good life at home.  She had a lot of issues that she hadn’t dealt with, and she had let her feelings build up inside until she ended up taking her anger out on those who happened to be around her.  Whenever she was rude after that, I just reminded myself of the things she was dealing with that affected her actions.  It was easier to be around her once I stopped being so judgmental towards her.  I wouldn’t have taken the time to listen to her if I had not gone on the retreat.  I’m not so quick to judge others since I met that group of middle schoolers.  Now whenever someone around me is cranky and snaps at me, I try to think about what kind of things they might be going through that would make them act so rude.  Maybe they are going through a divorce, or a family member died.  There’s always something that a person is going through that we might not see.  There’s no way to tell simply by their actions.

I think judging others without knowing all of the facts is something that many people have a lot of trouble with.  We tend to judge others based on how they act without considering the reasons behind their actions.  I think if more people would just look below the surface, they might learn something about those around them, and they might even learn something about themselves.  I would not have realized this if it had not been for the students that I was determined to avoid for so long.  I’m so glad I decided to get to know them and look below the surface.  It was easily one of the most important decisions I have made.  A few months ago, I moved away from these students, so unfortunately I can’t see them anymore.  However, the things that I learned from them will stay with me for a very long time, and will hopefully help me relate better to others, and be less judgmental.

comments powered by Disqus
Enter your search term and press the return key on your keyboard.