The "In" Group
From Facing History and Ourselves:
Holocaust and Human Behavior, Chapter 1
Eve Shalen, a high-school student, reflected on her need to belong.
My eighth grade consisted of 28 students most of whom knew each other from the age of five or six. The class was close-knit and we knew each other so well that most of us could distinguish each other’s handwriting at a glance. Although we grew up together, we still had class outcasts. From second grade on, a small elite group spent a large portion of their time harassing two or three of the others. I was one of those two or three, though I don’t know why. In most cases when children get picked on, they aren’t good at sports or they read too much or they wear the wrong clothes or they are of a different race. But in my class, we all read too much and didn’t know how to play sports. We had also been brought up to carefully respect each other’s races. This is what was so strange about my situation. Usually, people are made outcasts because they are in some way different from the larger group. But in my class, large differences did not exist. It was as if the outcasts were invented by the group out of a need for them. Differences between us did not cause hatred; hatred caused differences between us.
The harassment was subtle. It came in the form of muffled giggles when I talked, and rolled eyes when I turned around. If I was out in the playground and approached a group of people, they often fell silent. Sometimes someone would not see me coming and I would catch the tail end of a joke at my expense.
I also have a memory of a different kind. There was another girl in our class who was perhaps even more rejected than I. She also tried harder than I did for acceptance, providing the group with ample material for jokes. One day during lunch I was sitting outside watching a basketball game. One of the popular girls in the class came up to me to show me something she said I wouldn’t want to miss. We walked to a corner of the playground where a group of three or four sat. One of them read aloud from a small book, which I was told was the girl’s diary. I sat down and, laughing till my sides hurt, heard my voice finally blend with the others. Looking back, I wonder how I could have participated in mocking this girl when I knew perfectly well what it felt like to be mocked myself. I would like to say that if I were in that situation today I would react differently, but I can’t honestly be sure. Often being accepted by others is more satisfying than being accepted by oneself, even though the satisfaction does not last. Too often our actions are determined by the moment.1
- How important is peer pressure to the way we see ourselves and others? How did Eve Shalen’s need to belong shape her identity? How did it affect the way she responded when another girl was mocked? Why does her response still trouble her? How do you like to think you would have responded to the incident?
- Shalen concludes, “Often being accepted by others is more satisfying than being accepted by oneself, even though the satisfaction does not last.” What does she mean? How is her story like that of the Bear in the bear that wasn’t? How is it different?
- “Hatred begins in the heart and not in the head. In so many instances we do not hate people because of a particular deed, but rather we find that deed ugly because we hate them.”2 How do Shalen’s experiences support the statement? What experiences might call the statement into question?
- In Japan, students labeled as “itanshi” – odd or different – are often subject to bullying by classmates. In 1992, the Japanese reported at least thirteen bullying-related murders at junior and senior high schools. “Children bully other children everywhere, of course,” said Masatoshi Fukuda, head of the All-Japan Bullying Prevention Council. “But in Japan it is worse because the system itself seems to encourage the punishment of anyone who does not conform to social norms.” A fifteen-year-old girl, for example, was beaten to death in Toyonaka City after months of enduring insults for wearing hand-me-down public school uniforms. Her assailant told police, “She was an irritation in our faces… she dressed poorly when all other students have new uniforms every year.”3
- What does the girl’s assailant mean when he says “She was an irritation in our faces?” Who is most likely to be a victim of bulling in our society?
- A high-school student who was born in Cambodia wrote the following stanza in a poem called “You Have to Live in Somebody Else’s Country to Understand.” Compare it with the views expressed in this reading.
What is it like to be an outsider?
What is it like to sit in the class where everyone has blond hair and you have black hair?
What is it like when the teacher says, “Whoever wasn’t born here raise your hand.”
And you are the only one.
Then, when you raise your hand, everybody looks at you and makes fun of you.
You have to live in somebody else’s country to understand.4
- The animated film, Up Is Down, looks at the world from the vantage point of a boy who walks on his head. It describes the attempts of the adults to make the boy conform to their point of view. The video is available from the Facing History Resource Center. Also available is another animated video, Is It Always Right to Be Right? It explores what happens to a society when various groups claim be “right.” Eve Shalen appears in the video, A Discussion with Elie Wiesel: Facing History Students Confront Hatred and Violence.
1 Eve Shalen.
2 Dagobert D. Runes, The Jew and the Cross (Citadel Press, 1966), 30-31.
3 Colin Nickerson, “In Japan, ‘Different’ Is Dangerous,” The Boston Globe, 24, January 1993.
4 Noy Chou, “You Have to Live in Somebody Else’s Country to Understand.” In A World of Difference, Resource Guide (Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and Facing History and Ourselves, 1986)