Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Being popular is a family value. Well, it was in mine.

No small order.
Friend of my mother to my mother: You look at her cross-eyed and she cries.
Mom: So don't.

Being shy is usually trans-generational. Mother faked it til she made it, but she'll tell you today that she's shy.

So the popularity thing was a tall order, anxiety aside, and my parents, as I've discussed earlier, did teach the course on working the room, ala, Go kiss Aunt Goldie and make your cousins feel comfortable in our home. I had that down.

Proof that I am not making this up. One of my eldest sons (28) repeated this very recent conversation with his grandmother.
Y: Booba (rhymes with tuba), how're you?
B: Just great, Lenore and Sammy are visiting us.
Y: That's nice.
B: Do you want to say hello to Sammy?
Y: Who's Sammy?
It just seemed natural to my mom that her grandson should want to chat with one of my dad's cousins. In truth Y has met Sammy & Lenore, probably at his bris.

Anyway, I learned at some point that I could make kids in school laugh. But this was much later, perhaps I was already 10, so I think the socially challenged years were from 0-10, then from 14-present.

Blogging, of course, you can’t shut me up. Am told I have more words than G-d.
But popular? I don’t know. Let me tell you what it takes to be popular.

Source: Being Popular 101.

Axiom: Being popular means being nice.

This is a tall order for a lot of people, even if they have been hypnotized like I was.
You have to be nice to everyone. You have to be nice to everyone. You have to be nice to everyone. You have to be nice to everyone. You have to be nice to everyone.
My parents as luck would have it made popularity a conceivable concept because they themselves were popular. They were always playing cards or noshing and visiting with friends. Here's how I suffered as a result:

Mom or Dad (interchangeable on this one): Come out of your room and say hello to Helen and Shirley, Sid or Sidney.

All the men were named Sid, Sidney, or Sydney. No one knows why.

The come on out of your room thing was a way of making me into a social creature. Social creatures, people who love other people, are called Ohave Breiyot. According to my tradition, if you love His creatures, He'll love you for it. It's a good idea. So they tried to get me out of my room. Usually it translated into a piece of cake.

But since I've been in practice, I've learned that STAYING IN YOUR ROOM, NOT SOCIALIZING WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE HOME (if you're not a sulky adolescent)can be the harbinger of problems in adulthood.

If a person doesn't interact with his or her family of origin, then the social lubricant, the ability to empathize, to sense how others feel, might lie fallow. True empathy and consequently caring, although there surely might be some genetic marker, is probably not so much innate as it is fostered by family interaction.

Empathy can be learned. It can be learned in adulthood, but like learning a foreign language, it's much harder to learn in adulthood. So you have to teach it to your children. This is one of the most important parenting tasks.

I can't believe it's taken me this long to post this.

Empathy is an amazing quality, and makes it easier to be nice to others. You get them so you give them the benefit of the doubt. But...once you have that default inclination to feel how others are feeling, once you've determined that it's better to be nice, you have responsibility. You can't circumscribe that behavior. You can't just be nice to a couple of people. It's your responsibility to be a social person.

Corollary to Being Popular: Being nice to everyone may mean resisting the urge to join a popular “clique.”

Impossible. Or so it seems. Even if a person really does find everyone pretty fascinating (like I do), not joining a clique at certain ages (all ages?) is hard.

But it's necessary. It's that or you have to make everyone feel included in a special secret relationship. You're a person of many cliques, indeed, unlimited cliques. Cliques of 2, 3, 4, 5, . .any number of people who are cliqued together. I want to say, because you actually know how to click, or communicate well.

Having an exclusive clique without many other special cliques can really work against you. You can lose your soul. I almost did.

A couple of years ago I went to a high school class reunion I ran into someone who looked exactly as she had in 4th grade. But she dressed more like Paula Abdul.
Me: Hey, M., How are ya’?
M. glares at me.

Me: S’up? You’re looking great. (I didn’t feel this way, but it’s one of those things you say if you want to be popular).

M. glares some more. She's at a table, surrounded by others. I'm with two other women who were geeky like me in high school. M. is acting like, Well, look who's popular Now. My two friends are looking at me like, She hates you.

Me: What’s wrong, M., seriously. Do you recognize me? (Everyone recognizes me, I still look like I did at 11. Same build, too.)

M. sneers: You were mean to me. You were so mean to me. You wouldn’t let me into your clique. You and . . .

Take the knife OUT of my heart. Ouch.

Me: What are you talking about?
M (I wish I were making this up): Third grade.

Me: No way. I was too terrified of people at that age to have had a clique. I was the kid afraid to ask the teacher if I could go to the bathroom! (Something of an exaggeration, but these days they’d have had me on Prozac or something similar for the nail-biting).

M.: You were mean. Your friends were mean.

Me: Please forgive me. We were kids. I’m so sorry.
M makes some sort of Feh! gesture, brushes me off as if to say,
You blank.
This humbled and upset me quite a bit, her not accepting my apology. And it was a bad way to go into the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, which was coming right up, two days away. On Yom Kippur we're supposed to ask people to forgive us for the jerky things we did during the year. If people forgive us, we have half a chance that the Old Mighty will, too. Maybe we'll get another year of life.

Well, I said I was sorry.

So cliques can be deadly. See?

Now. If it's true that to be popular one must be nice to everyone, then what do we do about the people in own families? They're SO annoying. Do we have to be nice to them, too?

Yeah. All Of The Time.

What's interesting to me as a family therapist is that some people think that they can get away with being nice to everyone OUTSIDE of the family, but the people WITHIN the family they can treat like blank, like dogs. Rather than kick the dog (which isn't right either) they "kick" a spouse or the kids or both. This makes no sense.

When we're talking about being inconsiderate, bullying, or being overly critical to an adult partner I use the following intervention:

Treat her/him like you would treat your boss.

When it's beating on the kids I say:

Treat them like you'll want them to treat you when you're in a wheelchair.

So what does it really take to be popular? In the blogger community, and who knew this when I started blogging, and who has time for it, being popular means being funny AND validating other bloggers. Commenting on someone else’s blog is tantamount to publicly hugging a stranger. Emailing someone you only know through his or her essays or posts is the equivalent of calling up someone and inviting them to your Bat Mitzvah.

Communication in cyberspace is what it's all about, face it, and FRIENDLY communication is rewarding. Rejecting ANYONE is so not right, and yet, it is difficult to go full strength in virtual relationships since half the people who comment on blogs seem to be named ANONYMOUS.

The popular bloggers pull it off, however. They are terrifically social animals (yes, but we are all social animals, okay, most of us just aren’t terrific at it.)

I could name a dozen of you, but since I was invited to a virtual birthday party for Neil Kramer, let's name him. He's a very popular blogger and gets a lot of mileage about subjects that make me blush, but okay, nothing new there (even sex therapists can blush, dudes). If you are not interested in this kind of humor, skip the more prurient looking posts. The sweet ones concern Neil and his wife, Sophia, who is without a doubt Citizen of the Month. And very nice.

When I started blogging last May it was to disseminate research and practice findings (teach). I was hunting around Technorati, searching for Jewish blogs, thinking I’d find people who got my jokes.

Not that you have to be Jewish, G-d forbid, to get my jokes.

Anyway, there was Citizen of the Month, with a post he’d done on beds. Different beds. Made beds. I think it was called, Beds You’ve Shared With Me, or something like that. His cyberfriends had emailed him pics of their bedrooms.

The pictures were very nice and I liked the presentation. F.D. and I used to spend good money to see OPBs, Other People’s Beds at nice bed and breakfasts when we were running away from community/family life, well before our children left Chicago and all of our vacations became. . .visiting vacations. Some of these B. and B. owners had nothing on Neil’s friends. Others, I have to tell you, are SO much better than the best of you, sorry.

Anyway. I dropped him a comment. Nice beds. Actually, I have no idea what I wrote. But he emailed me back! This absolutely amazed me! I was so happy. Somebody out there said hello. He took it seriously, validating other people.

He listened to his mom and dad.

Well done, Mr. and Mrs. Kramer, and Happy Birthday, Neil.

Post Script: I think Y did get on the phone with Sammy. I'm really very proud.

Copyright 2007, TherapyDoc


Anonymous said...

Very well written article. True, it is very important to learn to be social, to learn to interact, even more important to do this with those who we are closest to.
I just wrote an article titled "The Language of Love", it has many of the same thoughts that you talked about today. Being nice, really does not take that much effort and the pay off is huge.

Holly Schwendiman said...

Yup, yup, and yup. You can't overstate the virtue of kindness and the good that can come from it. Watching my third grader is so painful remembering all those popularity woes that seem so all important at the time! I've absolutely loved getting to know so many great bloggers. I don't have time to comment on every article every time of all my favorites, but I hope my consistency speaks for itself. There are so many great people out there and blogging is a great way to connect.

Holly's Corner

therapydoc said...

I know that you two, H. & M., in fact probably ALL of the people who visit over here, don't even need this lesson.

It's me I have to keep reminding.

paris parfait said...

Yes, we are all lucky to read Neil's musings on a regular basis!

YZF said...

Um... don't be too proud.

Hey, I was driving. :)

therapydoc said...

What does this mean, I was driving. You had time? You were bored? You wanted to be in the carpool lane? What?

Anonymous said...

Eh, people are overrated.

Can't believe that woman brought up a third grade beef and then acted as if it was yesterday...what's up with that?

therapydoc said...

For her it was a snapshot memory, getting shut out of the clique, being rejected. I feel terrible about it. But you can't make kids socialize with others. Even under hypnosis.

It's unnatural. They have their needs to share intimately with only a select few.

The post is tongue in cheek, of course, and even if I present something as a value, like being nice makes you popular, hardly any kid is going to buy into it at the expense of what is obviously cool.

Cool isn't always popular, popular isn't always cool. Shut me up already.

Anonymous said...

I'm fascinated... and puzzled by the blogging part of this discussion -- really by blogging as a social activity. After reading the blogging part of this post -- and the one about boundaries and anonymity -- I just feel kinda confused. It doesn't resonate for me. So I'm wondering, TD, do you think there is a "blogger personality type"? Or even a "cyber personality type"? Do you think that "popularity" or "healthy boundaries" online are mirrored in "real life"? Is it inverted, maybe? Are blogger personalities an extension of people's "real life" personalities -- or are they like "alter egos", where you can say and do all that you can't do in "real life"?

I know that I'm missing something when I read all the comments and everyone else is saying "Oh, yeah!" and I'm thinking "huh?" (And then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are the folks who have never even read a blog, let alone written one, or even commented on one.) I'm hoping that someone (with the skills and insights of a doc ;-) might give me a little bit of insight into where the attraction lies. Clearly, there is something about blogging that appeals to folks and whatever that appeal is, it's strong enough to build these tight-knit cyber communities.

therapydoc said...

So I'm wondering, TD, do you think there is a "blogger personality type"? Or even a "cyber personality type"? Do you think that "popularity" or "healthy boundaries" online are mirrored in "real life"? Is it inverted, maybe? Are blogger personalities an extension of people's "real life" personalities -- or are they like "alter egos", where you can say and do all that you can't do in "real life"?
These are great questions. I can elaborate on them more, but it would be pure conjecture.

No one has studied this, not the way it needs to be studied, so we don't have the answers. As always there is a YES case or a thousand plus to all of them, and NO cases, as well.

You PhD candidates out there might think about how you might explore the answers. I will, too. Thanks for the thought provocation, Yvette. I wish we had just a tiny bit of research on blogging, but the word, and I've done a huge search, wanted to write an article on it for a professional journal, barely even exists in academic research literature.

Dagny said...

Not only did Neil listen to his mom and dad but Sophia must have listened to hers as well. Proof? That she sent thank you emails to all the bloggers who wished her a happy birthday on Neil's blog.

I was just having a conversation tonight (with another blogger in person, no less) about social niceties. He was trying to excuse what I conceive as being rude for being young. I countered that these were skills that should have been taught at home.

therapydoc said...

What's scary is that one would think that undoing rudeness, breaking people of insensitivity, would be easy.

Adults, once they're aware, change fast. But for some reason it's not the case here. They dig in their heals and get defensive with criticism.

Dagny's right. Start kids YOUNG. It's not so hard to be sensitive to others.

Anonymous said...

I guess my point was that, all that elapsed time and growth should count for something.
Confronted with a snapshot memory, I may be filled with the same emotions, but my way of dealing with people has changed. I highly doubt I would behaviorally regress into an 8-year-old, especially to the extent that I'd try to be so hurtful.

Then again, maybe she's the type of person who stops talking to her best friend for days/forever over a relatively minor slight. Can't identify with that.

therapydoc said...

That's true. What I do remember about M was that she wasn't easy to like and she still wasn't easy to like. So altho she may have grown, (and maybe I regressed, who knows) certain traits (borderline, frankly) remain the same.

My way of thinking of borderline is that some people are unfinished. Their identities are not well-formed and the consequent insecurity, their huge anxiety, makes them need to latch on, capture another person and not let go.

I think that even as a kid, I felt she was that kind of a person and I ran.

Anonymous said...

What a fun read this was! I am glad I participated in the carnival and found your blog.

DigitalRich said...

Thank you for participating in the 5th edition of The Carnival of Storytellers!


therapydoc said...

Yes, I've become a real carnival party animal. I recommend all of you to go to Dig's posts for good stories.

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