When Having a Special Interest Makes You a Horrible Person

In my early posts, I explained the point of this blog is to challenge the things Americans assume are true for everybody…but, really might be just cultural rules.   Some things are definitely, absolutely right/wrong for all people everywhere. But other practices just become “right” in certain places, after generations of people behave that way.

I like debating about which is which in different situations.

Until now, I’ve been kind of subtle about which so-called “truths” I’m challenging in each post. But I want to spell it out for clarity this time.

Cultural assumption:  if we don’t invite EVERYBODY to our club/shopping trip/special event, then we are being unfriendly…and we may possibly even be horrible people.

We don’t want people to think we have a “clique.”

If like-minded, similarly-interested people hang out together–excluding people who don’t think the same–it’s bad. Narrow. Close-minded.   Some of you noticed the word “excluding” a second ago, and recoiled from that alone.

We shouldn’t exclude. Ever. 

For any reason.

But I’d like to begin framing my “challenge” with a short video showing what happens when we try to accommodate *everybody* in every group. Please watch the Red YoYo Club.

So, everything is going great in the Red Yoyo Club, until people with yellow yoyo’s want to join, too.  Well, what’s the big deal? Why can’t the Red club invite yellow yoyo-ers?

And the answer is: changing their membership standards destroys the reason the Reds started the club to begin with.  The group’s identity crumbles when people can’t unite around a shared principle or interest.

Some people like red yoyo’s more than you or I would understand…  but anyone who DOES understand would really love the Red Yoyo Club! If you think yellow yoyo’s really aren’t much different from red yoyo’s–if you don’t think it’s a big deal–that’s fine. But you should not try to get involved in the Red Yoyo Club. You’re not a big enough enthusiast.

Most likely, you wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with those obsessive red yoyo people anyway.

And that’s okay!

It’s nothing personal.

The Reds are happy with their red yoyo’s, and the Yellows can start a different group for yellow enthusiasts, if they want.

More importantly, red yoyo-ers and yellow yoyo-ers can still consider each other decent human beings. They could still hang out and include each other in other areas of life…say any time other than Tuesday night from 4:00-6:00, when each yoyo-er goes to his/her respective club meeting to enjoy his/her special interest with the other members of their exclusive group.

Exclusion isn’t inherently bad.

So, if we can agree on all of the above, maybe we can take a closer look at this Dear Amy column which has been making the rounds in social media. (Click here.)

I can summarize with these quotes:

— “Dear Amy…Every fall, my sister, cousins, and a friend have a weekend shopping excursion…I have a sister we do not invite.”

—  “There are several reasons we don’t include her. We know she doesn’t have very much money for such an outing. She also does not have many of the same interests as we do.”

— “She takes it very personally…and has told our relatives I’m a horrible person.”

Okay, so the woman writing to Amy sounds pretty calloused, describing her sister’s tears like they’re a nuisance. And, once she realized her sister actually did want to come along on the shopping trip, why didn’t she just apologize for assuming she wouldn’t enjoy it and invite her the next year?

I strongly suspect this column only shows us a tiny slice of the drama. These sisters probably have been bickering since they were in pigtails…  And, for that reason, I can’t defend either of these women completely.

Maybe the sister who wrote to the newspaper really is a horrible person.

However, I don’t think we can conclude she’s horrible just because she won’t “make room” for another person on an exclusive trip, the way Amy does. And I can’t agree that the Left-Behind Sister is “completely justified in being upset.”

I realize American culture tends to argue that not inviting everybody to everything is wrong.  But, the way I see it, there are TWO possible ways to solve this problem, and one of them depends on the Left Behind Sister to smooth things over. I can imagine a culture where the responsibility to be understanding and graceful is hers.

Solution #1:    The Shopping Sister and Cousins realize they’ve hurt somebody’s feelings and they open their Wealthy, Christian, Stay-at-Home-Wives weekend to a broke, unbelieving, single lady.  (Because they’re SISTERS, and they want to be NICE.) This probably is the solution most of us would choose.

But is this the only right way to handle the mess? 

And what will be left of their annual shopping tradition, when they have to include this other sister in the decisions and plan-making–and they already know her opinions/preferences/interests are very different from their own?

If they notice the Formerly-Left-Out sister is feeling bored, or she doesn’t like the food, or she asks to see a budget-friendly movie instead of being tempted to spend money she doesn’t have at the mall….would it be “horrible” to remind her: “This is why we haven’t invited you all this time.”

“It’s not your thing.”

“You’ve been excluding yourself from this group by preferring different weekend activities.”

And no, Dear Amy, that’s not “blaming the person for not fitting in.”

Solution #2:  The second sister discovers she hasn’t been invited and tells the Shopping Sister/Cousins that she’s hurt. They apologize for making her feel bad (Note: I realize this likely didn’t happen in the real-life example), but they then explain why the Weekend Shopping Excursion wouldn’t appeal to her…

And the second sister says, “Oh, I totally understand!”

“No, really, I want you to enjoy yourselves! I’d hate to be the fifth wheel…”

“Seriously, it’s fine! It would be silly to ask you to change all your plans, when I don’t have the money or interest in doing those things anyway.”

“What REALLY interests me is spending time with you guys. So maybe we can spend a weekend at home together sometime?”

—–

In my head I’ve created a country called Blahblahstan. Here, somebody writes their newspaper with this exact same issue, and Dear Blahmy responds, “Include your sister in plenty of things before/after your weekend with the cousins. Then, hopefully she’ll understand.”  Or, “Go ahead and invite her shopping, but don’t feel obligated to change any of the traditions you enjoy. If she doesn’t have fun, maybe she’ll uninvite herself without any hard feelings at all!”

In Blahblahstan, the advice columnist wouldn’t insult the Christians by saying they “haven’t learned anything” at church just because they like hanging out with different people at different times. To my knowledge, there’s nothing in the Bible that regulates what special interest groups decide to do on a weekend.

And, please, don’t tell me that Jesus never excluded. His message was that anyone may follow Him–but not everyone was “invited” to be an apostle. He even took an inner, inner circle from those friends. (What’s up with that, Jesus?!)  Do you think Thaddeus ever cried “no fair” when John and Peter got to see the really cool miracles?  Did being closer to certain men make Jesus a horrible person?

Anyway, there’s a big difference between excluding people from hearing the Gospel and excluding them from your club. So, no, the first rule of Christianity isn’t “invite everybody every time…or else you’re a horrible person.”

Actually, Amy, that’s a pretty horrible thing to say about someone…

What do you think?  Did “Dear Amy” judge this situation correctly? Or could there be some American, exclusion-is-always-bad bias going on?

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