A wise man once told me that after an early divorce and 40 years in a second marriage, he had figured out the secret to successful relationships. This small pearl of wisdom has stuck with me for years, assisting me in my work with kids around issues of self-esteem and peer relationships.
This wise man said that every person carries around a certain amount of “bullshit” that is simply a part of who that person is. Having bullshit is a fixed condition, so to speak. He went on to explain that many relationships fail because people expect that they will be able to change or get rid of their significant other’s bullshit. His advice was that upon meeting someone, we should take note of his or her bullshit and decide whether this particular brand of bullshit is something we can live with or not. If we can live with it, proceed, if not, get out. So I’ve come to understand that this philosophy, or as I like to call it “BSosophy,” can be used to help our kids manage and maintain friendships, provided we change some of the terminology.
A few weeks ago I posted about the metaphor of Shopper vs. Merchandise that helps kids increase self-esteem. BSosophy follows the same philosophical logic as the idea of the Shopper, as BSosophy challenges kids to be the observer not the observed. My daughter recently experienced a social situation that illustrates this idea perfectly.
My daughter came home from school upset, because she felt one of her good friends was ignoring her when they played in groups during recess. This had happened several times over the previous year and my daughter was feeling increasingly bad about herself because of it. She said that she felt that, when with other girls, her friend was choosing other girls, and as a result she began to wonder what they had that she didn’t. I pointed out that when they were by themselves, this friend was great with my daughter and that they clearly had lots in common and loved playing together. I suggested that we think about what might be going on that did not have anything to do with my daughter being undesirable to her friend. In other words, I suggested: “Let’s analyze your friend!!” (insert maniacal laugh)
Brainstorming is the first part of BSosophy, as we are turning the lens away from my daughter and her self criticism and onto her friend’s BS. We came up with two reasons that might be responsible for this friend’s behavior in groups. Either the friend has trouble being partial when in groups, or she might feel so secure in her relationship with my daughter that she doesn’t work as hard on that relationship when they’re in groups as she does with girls she’s not as comfortable with. Once the lens was turned away from my daughter, I asked about the second part of BSosophy: “Do you think you still want to be friends with her if this keeps happening?” She didn’t even hesitate in saying “yes.” Quickly a more productive strategy emerged: Perhaps it might be a good idea not to play with this friend in groups.
Choosing to not play with her friend in groups will likely not work for my daughter all the time, but changing the focus away from herself was productive on several levels. The narrative that her friend shows "limited attention in groups” helped my daughter to stop beating herself up. Taking this approach also allowed her to look for other playground options that better suit her needs. Lastly, it took some pressure off the relationship, allowing both girls to be more comfortable when they are together.
When we talk about issues of self-esteem, the damage that people inflict on themselves is usually far worse than anything anyone else can do. It’s so hard for parents to stop their kids from going down the road of self-blame because they never listen to our compliments or praise. Introducing BSosophy can help our kids to look outward for answers when things don’t go right interpersonally. It also may empower them to cut loose those “friends” who are causing more harm than good.
One last bit of important advice: We must make sure to explain to our kids that discarding those we feel have too much BS does not work with family members. I recently had to re-explain to my daughter that she is stuck with her brother, no matter how much bullshit he brings to the table.