Occasionally in life you are tasks to do things you do not want to do. This in a sense is what makes life beautiful. If it weren't for the things we disliked, how could we possibly appreciate that which we enjoyed? I recently was tasked with the removing a friend from a collective group of friends. Indeed, I signed up for this task long ago, but I did not know how difficult something like this might be.
As mentioned in previous posts, I've spent a lot of time gaming. I also tend to experience a bit of cognitive bias when it comes to gaming. I'm torn between spending my time on something completely intangible, in an imaginary world, and on the flip side this time spent on the intangible is often spent strengthening connections with others. For me, I must seek out value in playing a game, or I will begin feeling quite bad about myself, as if I've fallen in a previously known loop of wasting my time away by playing games, and feeling bad about this time wasted.
Now that that's out of the way, let's dive in. A group of people I used to play with about a decade ago had reentered my life. The feeling of reconnecting with old friends is something magical. It's as if we are meeting new people for the first time, yet also as if not a minute has passed since we last spoke. Each and every one of them has changed dramatically over the last decade (as humans do), yet our connections have remained unscathed.
There's always one bad apple though, right? That's what they say at least.
With one member of this friend group, however, the experience was a bit different. It's very easy to forget that behind the monitor is a person with their own struggles and experiences, and it can be very difficult to disassociate the actions of a player in a game with the actual personality of a player out of a game. I say this because one of our friends who we all know had his own struggles in the past, in a sense forced us to make this differentiation.
I will use the pseudonym of Stanley moving forward. I don't know a huge amount about Stanley's personal life, but I do know that they grew up in a very poor environment, and experienced difficulties in his family life. Stanley also suffered from mental illnesses that he would not discuss a decade ago, and would only vaguely mention them in the more recent present. Stanley was a great guy at heart, but his shortcomings had a way of overwhelming the good person he is inside.
The first exhibition of this that we witnessed as a group, was shortly after we pooled resources together to purchase him a device he could use to join us in the game. Granted, when the resources were pooled together, he matched the amount and thus chipped in more than anyone else. Shortly after he received his device, something happened. Stanley eluded to issues in his personal life, but would not reveal completely what was going on. Personal items were stolen, a romantic relationship was faltered, and his communication became quite short and hurtful. Personally, I have had situations where the burden of life's pressure has emanated into my behaviors and interactions with people, so I felt for him at the time.
Within a week, he had a verbal altercation with the member of this friend group who contributed a significant amount towards the pool. Let's use the pseudonym of Chris. Chris and Stanley had an interaction in which both of them said something that they could have kept to themselves. Sometimes the best things to say are nothing at all. That was not what happened here though.
A verbal argument took place between Chris and Stanley, and while there were things initially said that should not have, the outcome was a heated verbal altercation between the two, with Stanley ultimately "winning" by overstepping the lines of acceptable behavior in this social setting. This lead Chris to locking up and accepting the attack. Much like Stanley, and all of us for that matter, Chris had his own personal issues with the interaction. Being verbally attacked was not something he was used to, and triggered something in his being to accept these attacks thus not escalating the situation any further. Call it what you will, but this is a trait that I think many could benefit from.
Shortly after this verbal altercation, something in the way that Stanley communicated with the group had changed. Possibly he had broken down a wall of communication from his side, and through this break in the wall allowed negativity to flow from within. Whatever Stanley was experiencing in his personal life was metastasizing in the form of hateful comments to friends and to strangers.
At this point, I had a discussion with Stanley. Stanley explained to me that he is not used to this new environment we live in. He and I are both cis white males, as we're labeled, and to be quite honest, it takes a significant amount of effort to change adolescent behaviors that were unchallenged by our peers. I'm being too vague here, I'll just be open about it. Stanley began rambling off homophobic slurs and emanating toxic masculinity. From calling other people the F word to calling women the B word, and everything in between.
My tone with Stanley was stern but understanding. Not long ago, a portion of the words I used would be considered hurtful or hateful, yet the intent behind the words were often far from that. But, times change. I explained this to Stanley, and that we, as individuals and collectively, need to take steps to correct this behavior in our society. Above all, that it must start with us on an individual level. I also explained to Stanley that while he claims to not have meant any harm by his words, simply associating ourselves with him sends the message to others that we accept this type of behavior.
It was at this point that I gave Stanley an ultimatum. "Stop being like this, or you will have to leave". Being the leader of the group that I had formed over the years, I felt like the pressure was on me to remove this problematic member of our friend group. It was honestly a very difficult thing for me to do. I generally avoid confrontation with friends. Prior to having this conversation, I felt like the universe had presented me with a test of sorts. Training where maybe this experience will help me navigate some long distant future issue that I will be presented with.
At least, that's what I told myself to make me feel better about it. But the reality is that I had to tell someone who I know is actively struggling with mental health, interpersonal, and family issues, that they have to leave our group of friends. I also knew this person for over a decade, and through the years had formed a bond with him, as many do in a video game community.
The behavior did not stop, and at this point I realized I had to make a choice. By allowing Stanley to act this way, I am hurting my friends who do not tolerate this sort of behavior. By supporting the bigger picture of our group and removing Stanley, I am hurting this individual. After discussing this conflict with my wife, she dropped an old adage upon me: "Cut the bad fruit off of the tree so it can continue to grow".
In gardening, sometimes you encounter a fruiting plant or tree which for whatever reason is not producing fruit evenly. Often times cutting this branch or stem off of the plant will prevent the plant for focusing all of it's energy towards healing this portion of the plant, and will instead continue to grow naturally.
I knew it in my heart to be true, but it still was not a difficult thing to do. The following morning I had a chat with Stanley over voice. I laid everything out for him in a very stern but understanding way. I think I emanate this image of toughness in my way of handling interpersonal affairs inside the context of the game, but the truth is I'm actually a very sensitive person. Maybe this is a coping mechanism I use to elude people from using this sensitivity against me. That's another topic for another blog entry though. I tried to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding while remaining firm, rather than with aggression that may lead to an argument.
At any rate, I informed Stanley that he was no longer welcome in our friend group. I felt an odd mix of emotions. On one side, I was standing up for the greater good of our friend group, and actively removing and resolving the issues we faced collectively. But on the other side I was single-handedly destroying this individuals chance of rekindling relationships with old friends.
Deep down, I know I made the right choice. Conflicts are not something that I enjoy by any means, but in a sense this experience has left me with a drop of courage in the face of conflict. The fear and anxiety that I was presented with by this challenge subsided as I began to talk, and I was able to stay calm in the face of adversity. I also knew that I had to speak for the rest of my friend group, because akin to me, they are also very non-confrontational. Without my decision to remove Stanley from our friend group, I would continue to lose connection to these friends, one by one.
I must admit, I feel as thought I acted entirely too late. As the leader of the group, I feel as though I should have identified this behavior earlier, and removed him at the first sign of inappropriate behavior. Part of me felt for him in his time of distress, but I came to realize this was majorly because he spoke louder of his experiences than others did.
The day following his removal, we saw a larger turnout in our friend group than we had previously for weeks. Seeing this validated the tough decision I made. As a parent I know that sometimes you can teach a child to do the right thing by using words, and other times it's best to provide them with the tools they need to make their own decisions. I should clarify that I do not see Stanley as a child of mine, but I do feel as though I utilized this strategy in this particular scenario.
That being said, maybe it was not in my cards to lead Stanley to a better way of behaving. It is also possible that the act of removing him from a group of friends and being transparent on the reasoning might lead him to a better way of behaving. A principle I try to live by is "Respect is Reciprocated". Maybe my purpose in this is to show him that very much like real-life interactions, even in a virtual group of friend, when you act like a jerk, you will be treated like one.
I hope the for the best for Stanley, and wherever life takes him. I dearly hope that he reconsiders his behavioral patterns that lead him to conflict, and maybe in the distant future we can reconnect and have a mutual understanding of the events that I wrote about in this entry. There is likely more to his story, and a reasoning for him to have acted this way. Yet, Stanley was given multiple chances to correct this behavior, and chose not to.
Until then though, I will continue to build my friend group and work to strengthen any connections we already have. I consider these people a family, in a sense. Chosen family, if you will. Every once in a while we will have to sort out family drama, but what does not dissolve the deep connections we have already formed, will often instead strengthen our existing connections.
A drop of positive to end a blog post:
Those connections I mentioned in the last sentence? Think for a minute about a few that you have with friends and family members. Okay, think of a few more.
These connections are worth more than gold.