You’re invited to a get-together Saturday afternoon. It sounds like fun. It’s at the restaurant you’ve been wanting to try. And, as luck would have it, you’re free on Saturday! The only catch is that you don’t know anyone who will be there for reasons I’ll leave open to your imagination. Maybe you just moved to the fictional land in this scenario, maybe you run in different circles, maybe work and shuttling kids around keeps you in your own lane six days a week or maybe you are just seeing the light of day for the first time in months since your baby was born — your hypothetical, your choice.
Even for the socially gifted, this is not an ideal scenario because parties, meetings, work, school, volunteering or pretty much anything else is a little less scary when you know someone else who will be there. It’s that safety-in-numbers thing that’s engrained in our brains from an early age.
If you’re an introvert, or you’re shy, or you just feel awkward in new social situations, you might flake on this thing on Saturday. It’s hard to face something alone; it makes you vulnerable — I wouldn’t fault you for making that call. In fact, I’m the flaker in that scenario. I’m almost always awkward the first time anyone meets me — I can’t say for sure if that’s how it comes off, but I feel that way. I’ve just never been one to float seamlessly into a conversation. No, walking up to a group of strangers makes me feel like I have a flashing neon sign over my head that says, “One of these things is not like the other.” No thanks, I’d rather stay home than stand around checking my phone, trying to look important in between telling the same condensed story of my life to strangers.
Let’s say the exact same get-together is happening on the same Saturday (and, we’ve already established that you’re free), but your neighbor who’s made you feel welcome since the day you moved in is also going. A party full of strangers doesn’t scare me at all if I have a wingman. Awkward pauses don’t happen and judging my what I can tell of my own body language, I probably look more approachable.
Swap this hypothetical party out with almost any other situation, and you get the same result. No matter where we are or what the situation, we are stronger when we band together. When we, as military spouses, or a military community as a whole, choose to be inclusive and support each other instead of nitpicking and judging each other, we are a strong unit, a total force. We are a school of fish that can fend off the toothiest of sharks instead of fragile guppies swimming along solo.
I don’t want to be a guppy. I want to feel empowered swimming along next to equally empowered fish. Empowered fish are strong, confident and they look out for their own. So, to swim in this school of positive, empowered fish, there are a few ground rules:
- Squash conversations that only exist to cut people down. It sounds heroic, but anyone can change the subject. You don’t have to publicly shame anyone, just refuse to talk about other people negatively.
- Introduce yourself. Greet your new neighbor or the mom at the park who looks like she’s having one of those days.
- Have one face. Nothing brings back high school like the term “two-faced,” but it applies here as well. I said it years ago in a blog somewhere here on Blog Brigade, the military community is a small town. So stick to one face, and make it a good one because it will get stuck like that.
- Be inclusive. Look, I’m not saying you need to invite everyone to everything. I don’t want to feed the entire neighborhood dinner either. But, be inclusive when it’s necessary. When there’s a new family on the block, extend an invitation. When you know someone doesn’t have any plans or family in town for a holiday, remember: the more, the merrier.
- Be civil. Like number four, we know at this point in our lives that we aren’t going to be friends with everyone. For whatever reason, some people don’t mesh — it’s nothing to lose sleep over. Not meshing is one thing, being rude is another. Let’s exchange some mutual respect and continue to coexist like civilized adults.
- Encourage where encouragement is due. It doesn’t matter how busy I am; I can pick up on signs of stress in another person. As much as I like to stick to my own schedule, I will always detour for someone who needs to talk. I can be a couple minutes late if someone needs a hand. Humans trump schedule.
- Give up grudges. Apologize, accept apologies and move on.
- Participate in the network. The military community is full of talent and, in a weird second-cousin-twice-removed kind of way, we are all connected. It’s easy to get wrapped up in competing — wanting to be the best in your field of expertise, wanting to have the last word or the best social scene. It’s far more beneficial to be a team player and support each other on our journeys than it is to keep our heads down and go it alone.
Vulnerable isn’t a popular feeling — people tend to dislike it. I’ve been the new kid on the block, so have you. I’ve made abrupt 90-degree turns, like recently deciding to head to grad school to pursue something that seemed ridiculous even a year ago. What encouraged me? It was a supportive network, an empowered group that didn’t say judgmental things, like “How are you going to have time for that,” or even the slyly condescending, “Oh, I sure wouldn’t want to do that, but good for you.” No, success, positivity and ambition are contagious. My recent decision was met with comments, like “I’m so excited for you,” and questions from people who genuinely showed interest.
So, don’t be shy. Spread it around. Be a friend. Be a cheerleader. Let’s have more “You go girl (or boy),” and less eye rolling. And let’s not wait around for someone else to be the bigger person, we can handle that.