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Archive for Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Consider golden rule when deciding who to exclude

March 21, 2006

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Dear Dr. Wes and Marissa: I'm having a sleepover, and I didn't invite someone I see all the time. How do I handle that? What should I do?

- Teenage Girl

Marissa: I guess the first thing that I want to know, and wish that you would have included in your question, is why didn't you invite her to your party? You say that you see her all of the time, but aren't you friends? If not, then she probably will not think anything of it. If you are friends, then I think that the only thing that you can do is be honest and be prepared to offer an apology or a good explanation as to why you didn't invite her.

She is inevitably going to be hurt and feel left out by this. It is important that you be as kind as possible when you talk to her and try not to be surprised if she is angry and doesn't want to speak to you.

Friends are likely to have fights when something like this happens because it is an embarrassing situation for the person who was not included. Think about how you would feel to know that most of your friends will be doing something together but they left you out. You would probably feel pretty rejected.

Try to make it up to her. You should set aside a time when just the two of you can spend some time together and hopefully patch up any rough spots in your friendship. This could be a sleepover or simply hanging out for a few hours after school.

If something can be learned from this situation, it is this: From now on, when you are having a party or sleepover that will not include all of your friends, you should keep the event hush-hush and try to not talk about it in front of the people who will not be there. Learning to handle situations like this tactfully can help you to avoid more awkward moments like this in the future.

Wes: I think there is a larger issue here. You didn't say how old you are, but at every point in our journey to adulthood we face these kinds of dilemmas. If we listen, they teach us a lot about how to get along with others. Among the toughest of these struggles is learning to think more of others and less of yourself - to consider how you impact the world with your actions. Teenagers are terrific at identifying how every little thing - parents, school, gas prices, friends - improves or messes up their lives, but they have a harder time understanding how their actions influence others. In fact, I think many kids feel pretty weak and unimportant, so they tend to miss all the damage (and good) they can do every day. Others have been treated badly at home or in school and simply don't care who they hurt.

A person of any age has a responsibility to think about how they are treating others and to act ethically - to follow a system of moral standards to guide their behavior. I think we do far too little to help kids act ethically toward one another, to think about and do what is right and just for ourselves and our world. Whether you realized it or not, this was your question: "What's the ethical thing to do here?"

I assume this girl believes she should be invited and will feel left out if she's not. If so, then it is ethical for you to worry about this. The question is whether it is unethical not to invite her. If her feelings will be hurt because she is a friend and has a right to expect to be asked, then Marissa is on the money. You owe her an apology. However, if she is not such a good friend, there is something wrong with your communication that causes her to see herself as being included in your sleepover.

An easy answer is to reach out and draw her in. Inclusion is always a good ethical principle. However, you can't be friends with everyone, and your parents aren't going to play host to a sleepover for 300 girls. So what's important here is to be clear where she stands with you and to be kind and respectful if you exclude her. Whether you believe in the golden rule, karma or some other philosophy, a fundamental principle of social interaction is to consider the feelings and needs of others and factor that into your choices. A failure to behave ethically will return to haunt you. When was the last time you saw a teen movie where the mean girls won out in the end?

Next week: Write an essay for Double Take and become the new co-author in August 2006. We'll give the details of the first annual Double Take essay contest next week.

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