Feeling totally comfortable in your group? Careful. You might be in a clique.
When I was about eighteen, I was part of a particular group that hung out a lot. It was a really great group with some smart people. Four people in particular, two guys and two girls, were pretty cool. I would have liked to have gotten to know them a bit better.
But I couldn't.
You see, it didn't matter who else was around. When the four of them were together, they didn't talk to anyone else. They sat in the middle of the room, talking loudly to each other, laughing and joking, and having an awesome time. Together.
Trying to join the conversation was impossible. They had so many in-jokes that they were always laughing at something private. They had conversations which carried on from conversations they'd had before, with no explanations for anyone who didn't understand what they were talking about. And it wasn't just me who felt on the outs. I could lots of people trying to join the conversation, but there was just no way in.
In their own minds, I think they just saw themselves as friends. Four people who got along very well, who had a lot in common, and who laughed a lot.
Unfortunately, everyone else saw them as a clique.
I thought a lot about it, and not just because of my own hurt feelings. I was genuinely interested in how this was playing out, and how it could have been different.
These guys were all friends. That was obvious. Should they have given up their friendship so that other people didn't feel left out? That seemed harsh. But the way they were behaving was creating divisions and hurts in the bigger group.
I came to the conclusion that their behaviour was fine. The thing that was inappropriate was the way they were expressing themselves in that time and place.
I've written before about four different types of spaces: public space, social space, personal space and intimate space. What we think of as 'appropriate behaviour' depends a lot on the type of space you find yourself in at any given time.
So, if you're in the library (public space), you don't start an argument with a family member (personal space). When you're at home, relaxing (personal space) you can take off your make up and heels (social space) and put on your ugg boots, because you don't need to keep up appearances.
The closeness of personal space friendship needs to be expressed in personal space.
The four people in my group had every right to be friendly to each other. They were friends, after all. They were invited into each other's personal space.
However, what they didn't realise was that mealtimes and social times with the whole group took place in social space. They were doing personal space things in social space. And it didn't work. People were feeling unhappy about them.
Maybe they weren't aware of it: I kind of hoped that was the case. If they had known how they came across to others, they may have changed their behaviour. They still could have shared their close friendship, but they would have been more open as a group, more inclusive and welcoming of others. Also, quieter. Their loud voices said to everyone, "We own this space. We can have whatever conversations we like, and you can't do a thing about it." No one felt like playing librarian and telling them to just shush.
Later, if they'd wanted more time, just as the four of them, they could have organised with each other to go out and hang together without the rest of the group having to watch on.
The danger of being in a clique doesn't just apply to friendship groups; it can happen with couples as well. When my brother turned 21, he celebrated with about 50 or 60 people at a fancy dress party. If you made me list the guests now, years later, I could maybe guess at five, but I could tell you straight away about one particular couple. I definitely remember them. Why? They were so unfriendly.
They weren't rude. They weren't mean. They didn't start fights. They just simply were not interested in talking to anyone else. They spent the entire time smooching and dancing up close with each other. Acting intimately in a social space. It was weird and disturbing and unfriendly because it excluded everyone else.
Cliques can happen in any group, whether people are 'nice' or not. They happen because people do not have an attitude of kindness towards others that is appropriate in a social space.
Yes, maybe it's more fun and enjoyable to carry on your personal relationships in a public and social space. It's just not fun for everyone around you. It's excluding, and exclusive, and unkind.
If you're in a clique, it's so easy to forget other people. You hardly even see them. But love is seeing the people around you. Loving is including people. Loving is acting appropriately so that everyone is respected and given the honour due to them as God's creation.
If you've been part of any group - whether it's school friends, a sports club, a mothers' group, or even something as painful and challenging as a running group - for a while and you feel comfortable in it, you have power.
Surprised? Don't be.
You have power to make your group into something exclusive, where those who are not 'in' feel uncomfortable and small. Or you can make your group into something that is welcoming and loving. And you don't have to give up your friends or your fun to do that.
All you have to do is recognise the space you are operating in, see the people around you, and act appropriately.
Also, tips for being the person on the outside of a clique. Take your eyes off them. Focus on the other people around you. There are more people outside than inside, and they are valuable, fabulous people. Get to know them and enjoy them!