Saturday, April 14

The Mythical Clique: There Is No Cabal

I wouldn't say that I was a popular fellow, but over the past few years (since graduating, in fact) I have managed to stumble across a wide variety of friendly people whom I get to see on a regular basis. If we project this onto a Venn diagram, you could say that I loosely belong to many disparate social circles. Sometimes these circles overlap in the people who belong to them, and sometimes they exist in isolation from the rest. I have stronger affinities with some, and weaker ones with others, and this variance exists within a specific circle too.

Reading the above back to myself, it's clear that I'm really describing the situation that most people find themselves in. Relationships on all scales are complex and organic things, and thus "meta-relationships" like social circles and groups are exponentially so. My approach is to just ride with it; let relationships and the like build themselves, since the natural order of things will determine which associations form, which ones mix, which ones develop further and which ones don't come about at all.

Which is probably why I don't get this concept of cliques. I mean, sure, I know what they are and what some people mean when they talk about them. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't quite believe that they actually exist. Well, not outside of secondary schools anyway (and even then I don't remember them being a problem in mine). Here are three reasons why.

Firstly, there's the organic contradiction. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I belong in a clique. Assuming I wasn't there from the start, I had to be new at one point. And if there was indeed a clique, I wouldn't have been allowed to join it (and if I had been, then anyone else could too and there would be no clique). And if I was in a clique from the start, well then I would never get to meet new people.

Secondly, there's the issue of internal flux. For a clique to exist, all members of it must relate to each other in a perfectly balanced and flawless manner, since that's what defines the boundary of the clique. Otherwise what would be the point? Unless you have a membership card entitling you to discounts at all major high street chains or something, it would be the promise of bulletproof friendships that make cliques attractive, and I'm sure you'll agree that such things do not exist in reality.

Thirdly, there's the simple idea of personality clashes. I'm going to make a big, yet (in my opinion) reasonable, assumption that people like to meet new people, and that groups of friends usually gather over some kind of shared quality or experience. These can be concrete things like school, work or interests, but can also be more abstract like personality, character and senses of humour. And if they can gather on these things, then they can repel on them too. In other words, if you find yourself unable to enter a social circle, then it might not be about failing a membership criteria, but quite simply just because you don't get along with the people in it.

Social circles aren't about acceptance, joining processes, VIPs and "core members". They're just a way of cutting an infinitely complex ecosystem of relationships; they're the result of friends coming together, not the cause.

And if you're the type that feel cliques do indeed exist, well, then I'd say that at best you're just redundantly describing a natural occurrence that isn't personal and so not a real barrier. And at worst, well... Perhaps you just don't have the social skills required to make these new friends in particular, or awareness to accept that it's reasonable that these friendships might not even be possible at all.