Tonight I went on a date with girlfriend, and it was actually at my old high school. She is a teacher at the high school I went to and her teacher friend was participating in the event this night. The event was called “Comedy Sports” and it is where two teams, the red team and the blue team, face off against each other in various improvisational games with the goal of getting the most laughs from the audience. It was very fun and we had a great time, but there was one thing that I noticed which made me feel sad.
There was one girl who was wearing a Comedy Sports shirt, and was thus clearly on the High School team, but instead of playing her task was to merely hold the scoreboard all night. From what I could tell it looked to me like she was a shyer type, and likely not as magnetic (and probably not as funny – if at all) as some of the other personalities that were on the team. At the very beginning of the night when she was the only one on the stage she was smiling, but as she held the scoreboard the entire night while everyone else got to play in the game and make the audience laugh, the smile seemed to fade.
I cannot prove anything here, and in this post I am not maligning anyone on the Comedy Sports team, but I will say that seeing this girl up there holding this board all night made me feel sad. All I could think about was that she didn’t get to play. All the other kids got to play, and they got to make everyone in the audience laugh and have a good time. Meanwhile for this girl she sat and held a whiteboard without saying a word for the duration of the entire event. Again, it made me feel sad.
When I was a Freshman at this same high school I too was on the Comedy Sports team. And I too did not get to play. At that time the drama department had an evil teacher (I am using the word “evil” here in the most serious of senses) who played favorites, and because I was not the teacher’s pet (unlike her other students) I quickly became the whipping boy and many things consequently followed.
First, I dealt with the brunt of the criticism in solo presentations as well as group presentations in drama. The teacher would relentlessly savage me whenever I did anything wrong. Her criticism of me was so severe, that it destroyed my confidence in public speaking for many years to come. Her remarks were so terrible on such a level that I had never experienced anything like them before and have never experienced anything like them since. Thank God.
This was bad enough but it didn’t end there. The second, and worse complication were the teacher’s pets. Once they had gotten the memo that the drama teacher did not like me they then chose to not like me either. This meant that I wasn’t cool and they didn’t let me hang out with them at lunch or include me like the other kids that the teacher liked. In Comedy Sports practices they wouldn’t laugh at my jokes, and they would hold in their laughter when I told good ones. One time I told a joke so especially funny that no one could hold it in, including the teacher who loved to hate me. Her laugh only lasted for a few seconds, but it felt damn good; because I was able to clearly see that I was funny, and that no one was laughing at my jokes not because I wasn’t humorous, but because they didn’t like me, because the teacher had made it clear that I was an outcast.
Now, the last consequence of this bullshit was that I was benched on Comedy Sports. Comedy Sports was an extracurricular activity outside of school hours, but the drama teacher was in charge of the program and was not only attendant at the practices, but she also oversaw them. It’s easy to see where the story goes from here. Because the teacher didn’t like me, the kids in Comedy Sports didn’t like me, and thus I never got to play.
I was literally a high school political exile.
Again, it was total bullshit. But it did open my eyes to what it felt like to be sidelined. I got to play in every other sport I had ever been in. I might not have been the best and at times I would get pulled out and another player put in for my place, but I always got to play in the games. Not in Comedy Sports. Eventually, I saw that there was no place for me in Comedy Sports and that I would likely never get to play, so instead of dealing with the crap I quit the team and then after surviving the rest of the semester in drama class under that witch of a human being, I quit that too.
The teacher gave me an “A” by the way. She also noted that I was “a pleasure to have in class.” No shit. It’s fun to have someone to take it out on right?
As I stated above, the whole experience opened my eyes to being sidelined, and what it feels like to not be included; and further to be ruthlessly excluded. I was and still am a very social person so this was and is very uncommon for me, but in the end it was great that I had this experience so I could really understand what it is like to be excluded. Unfortunately, for some people this is their entire life experience. They get repeatedly excluded from event after event, and it’s just tragic.
Tonight, all I could think while watching was “does this girl ever get to play?” Maybe she does, and tonight was the event where she got her turn to sit out because there are so many players on the team that not everyone can play every week. I hope so, and it might be the case. But for me, being there, seeing her sit the whole night and not get to play while everyone else did, reminded me of when I was excluded from the same sport, in that same room.
I guess at least she got to hold the scoreboard, I didn’t even get to do that. But honestly I’d rather not even be up there if I don’t get to play. so I’m not sure who had it worse.
Again, I stress that I am not here taking it out on the Comedy Sports team, I don’t know the team’s inner workings and what is going on. It really could simply be that it was her turn to sit out and thus then there is nothing wrong with what happened. Everybody gets their turn to sit out. But, what I am using this story for is to draw back on my memory from when I was in high school and to communicate the experience of what it is like to be excluded. It isn’t fun at all and I encourage everyone reading this to think about when they were excluded and how bad that felt. Now, you cannot go back to the past and change what has happened, but you can look to the future and change what will. Next time you see someone that is being excluded, or you are in a position of authority where your decisions make winners and losers, try to limit the amount of losers, and if possible try to make everyone a winner in some way. See if you can do something to include as many people as you can, and maybe sacrifice yourself for the sake of another. You never know how much it just might mean to another person.
And look out for the ones who are weak. Especially give them a chance. Have a heart.
My Father was a basketball coach at a recreational league in San Pedro for over 30 years. One thing he did that so many coaches refrained from, was playing all of his players. It didn’t matter if some kids were terrible, my Dad played them. Even if it meant losing the game, my Dad would still play the damn kids. There were other coaches who would just bench kids, and sometimes those kids who were especially bad never got to play a game for the entire season. It was just wrong. My Dad had a heart, and he still does. I love him for that, and thankfully I have a heart too. I wish more people did, and I urge you to have one too.
Include people in things. Even if that kid at school is a little nerdy, would it kill you to let them stand in your friend circle for five minutes before class starts? And that woman at work that no one talks to because she looks funny, say hello to her. And that guy that quite possibly is in his forties and surely has never been on a date or might not even have a solitary friend, ask him how his day is going. And if you are doing something and any of these people are around, and are in hearing distance, just grow up and do the right thing. Include them. You don’t have to do it all the time, or even for very long, but have a heart and include them. It just might mean the world to them.
And who knows, they might surprise you, you might end up liking them.