Back to high school: Integrity isn’t just what you do when no one’s watching; it’s what you do when everyone is

By Danni Nutter and Eryn Green

Dear Danni,

I am on a certain team (that I don’t want to say) comprised entirely of girls. Recently, I’ve noticed that most of the girls on the team are talking about one girl behind her back. They act all nice to her face and even hang out with her, but then it’s all nasty backbiting [when she’s not around].

Danni, I like the girl personally, but I don’t want to be next as an outcast. What do I do? I think the girls are being petty, but I don’t want to stand out either. Do I just be her friend, or do I distance myself from the situation?

Dear “Petty Betty,”

Danni Nutter: Ah, yes-reverting back to the high school lunchroom, are we? That’s cool: Who doesn’t look back on the days of cafeteria autocracy and swoon?

People with a sense of tact, integrity and respect, that’s who.

Eryn Green: High school was absurd on so many levels, it’s hard to recount. Maybe the most obvious is that while individuality is supposedly encouraged in high school (how many student groups posted fliers looking for “diverse and open-minded student leaders?”) anyone who stands out from the crowd is immediately singled out and marginalized.

It doesn’t matter what, or whom, you stood up for, if you don’t fall in line by looking, acting and thinking like the kids at the cool table, your social life (and self-esteem) is systematically annihilated.

Danni: I guess times really haven’t changed all that much since the locker room.

Something inside me says I shouldn’t be surprised-it says, “Danni, what do you expect in a city so rife with blond-haired, blue-eyed size-twos full of about as much personality as a bottle of ranch dressing?”

But then I snap back into reality and remember that there is no excuse for such insecure, malicious compensation-ever.

Eryn: It doesn’t matter where you live, what your neighbors look like or how poorly you feel about yourself: Nobody has any right-whatsoever-to diminish another person’s feelings of self-worth. I don’t care how hollow, jealous or insecure you feel, those are your issues to deal with and projecting your inadequacies onto another person is just about as weak and tragic as you can get.

Danni: Let’s make sure we’re on the same page here: Two-faced, malicious gossip like this is not an example of someone simply disliking another person. This behavior is catty and spiteful-it is certainly not the result of a healthy sense of confidence or security, that’s for sure.

For whatever reason, the women on your team are so mortified of not being accepted that they are willing to sacrifice some poor soul (one of their own teammates!) so as not to be singled out.

Eryn: And you know what else? You’re not behaving any better.

As a matter of fact, that you’re obviously aware of the inappropriate nature of your actions might make you even more culpable: While there is a (oh-so-small) chance your teammates really are so obtuse as to not see the vicious forest for the trees, you do.

And you’re not doing anything about it.

There is an old saying that the greatest sins are those of omission-people who see wrong and turn their back to it are the most contemptible because they had the chance to make a difference and chose-key word: chose-to do nothing.

Danni: There is no honor or integrity in distancing yourself to avoid critical eyes-it’s cowardly and blameworthy.

So I don’t really know what to do about your situation. It sounds like you’re concerned about misrepresenting your intentions, but that’s exactly what you’re doing. Do you really feel like some kind of consciensous objector?

Well, you’re not. By ignoring the problem, you are promoting it. By being a silent accessory, you are manipulating the trusting nature of this person without her even knowing it-just like everyone else.

Eryn: It doesn’t get much more exploitive than that. Most of us assume that if we’re hanging out with someone and they’re smiling, it’s a genuine expression. No one should ever have to sit down for coffee with someone and think, “Does this person actually like me or is it all an act?”

Danni: You’re in a slightly different boat than your teammates because you say you actually like this person-so you should have no problem hanging out with her, right? The answer is “of course not,” but that’s something you need to figure out for yourself.

Eryn: Your teammates, however, are just being obscene. If they really have something against this woman, why associate with her at all? It’s so subversive. Why not just part ways-if someone actually dislikes someone else, there is no law mandating they hang out. It’s not like anyone is holding a gun to your head.

Danni: I advise you not to take part in gossip of any kind-this includes listening idly. Be proactive. Take the initiative. Let your teammates know they are behaving like prepubescent freshman. Your disapproval may not change their behavior, but at least you’ll be the respectable individual. Whether or not you realize it, that matters.

Eryn: While we’re comparing rotten apples to oranges, why does it matter what these ridiculous women think of you, anyway? They obviously have much deeper issues to deal with, and if you can manage to get over your fear of exclusion-which, in this case, seems like it would be a good thing-what could you possibly hope to glean from their acceptance and “friendship” anyway? How could you ever be sure they weren’t just leading you on to break you down, too?

Danni: Stand your ground, and stand up for the underdog. I would put money down that at some point in every one of these women’s lives, they were ostracized, too. Why do you think they are so preoccupied with making sure it never happens again-it’s a vicious self-perpetuating cycle.

Let’s put it this way-have you ever cooked crabs alive in a pot? What happens is very interesting. As soon as one has climbed on top of the rest and is nearing freedom, another crab from the bottom of the barrel grabs its legs and pulls it back down.

Eryn: It’s a totally messed up Darwinism-forget survival of the fittest, this survival of the most desperate and vindictive.

Danni: The bottom line is simple: Ask yourself if you would still be saying these things, or turning a blind eye, if your singled-out teammate were standing right next to you. If the answer is no, then stop being a culpable wallflower.

If the answer is yes, there’s nothing more I can do for you.

[email protected]

[email protected]