Jul. 16, 2012

Your Pack



        Many of my students may well remember this lecture from class.  This was usually a discussion we got into just before graduation or in private when one of my charges had their heart broken or was hurt by one of their classmates.  While it is based on some psychology studies I had to do forty years ago it is not a formal theory as much as it is an observation. I am including this for many of my "friends" because this year has seen a larger than normal exodus of teachers finding new positions.


        As we grow older or change from one environment to another we tend to look back and wonder what happened to all those individuals that we interacted with before.  Sadly, when we attempt to reminisce most of the people that  were so intimately a part of our day to day life seem a distant shadow without distinctive features.  Many of them we can't remember their names or even who they were.


        In the military we used to have a saying for this that helped us to transition from assignment to assignment as we were so often changing locations and needing to build new relationships.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "In the Marine Corps we don't have friends we have acquaintances."  I often thought this was a cold hearted perspective until I gained a different perspective.


        When began my college studies I was on a military base where they didn't have any resident colleges offering lower division classes.  I managed to get Pepperdine to approve my taking graduate courses to be applied toward my Associates degree.  Well, one of those classes was a psychology course with a highly respected child psychologist.  During class he posited a theory of "pack" development.  We spent several Saturday sessions cussing and discussing the theory and its application in regards to our military lives. 


        I would ask each of you to think back and try to remember how many truly close friends you had in high school.  I will bet they numbered between three and ten who were truly close to you on a daily basis. Next, pick each of the transitional phases of your life, college, first job, second job, relocation, etc. and note how many truly close friends you had in each situation.  Amazingly, you will find that the number is very close to the first instance.  You see, you have a distinct "pack" size which you have adapted that gives you satisfying reinforcement while minimizing the amount of your commitment. 


        As I would talk to my Juniors and Seniors I would explain that the teenagers they were trying so hard to impress and wanted so much to be accepted by would gradually be replaced by new "pack members".  The peripheral members would, in most cases, be forgotten while the main members would be simply replaced keeping the overall "pack" size at the same manageable number.


        This discussion seemed to help many of my teens when they felt the entire world was crumbling because their "best friend" or "significant other" had abandoned them.  It was particularly helpful in discussions with the "outsiders" who felt they didn't "fit in".  Once, they saw that the now wouldn't be forever they seemed to be able to accept the situation as only one step and not a giant one at that. 


        Students who were frightened about "leaving home and going to college" were able to see that it would be normal for them to begin to forget and be forgotten as they formed new relationships.  Some would deny the possibility as they reflected that they still knew all the kids they were with in  grade school; in these cases I would ask them to try to remember the kids that were in summer camp or who they knew from their summer vacation.  In these cases I had to explain that they had remained in essentially the same herd since grade school and had merely modified their "pack" which kept their current and previous members refreshed through occasional contact.


        Now some of you will begin citing all the Fraternity brothers and Sorority Sisters from your college days.  I would ask you to be careful not to confuse maintaining contact with friendship.  If you abandoned your devotion to that organization how quickly would those associations dissolve.


        It may not be the most scientific theory but it's useful. I challenge each of you to examine your own relationships and see if this doesn't have some truth in it that you might be able to use with your own relocation adjustment.  Or, it might help you to calm the fears and stop the tears your teenager is experiencing.