I did not have the best of experiences in elementary and high school. It's not that I delusionally believe that attending a different institution would have a better result. The more I grow, the more I know: People are people all over.
Neighborhoods can possess different hashkafos, and most get along better with those who share their same outlook. But personalities, how humans emotionally operate? That's pretty much the same, no matter where one goes.
Back to high school. Yeah, it sucked. I was ecstatic when I graduated. I didn't even realize then it was because I would be free of my classmates, not my "insisting that the sitting and learning lifestyle as the only way to be a proper frum Jew" morahs.
It was a number of years before I met up again with a large force of these gals. Some had changed, for the better; these were usually fellow introverted or cripplingly shy individuals who also found their voice and way. With rare exception, the "popular" girls, and the "popular" girls posse, were unchanged.
Most of us are what we are from birth. The education system shoves various types into one confined area—a crucible, if you will—which can bring the worst qualities to the surface. We all exhibit a motley of behaviors, depending on the circumstances; when we have backup, when we don't, when we are assured of public acceptance, when we don't.
Then we graduate, achieve adulthood, marry. The steady gang of five to ten have their own lives; the royal clique disbands. A lone person needs people. She'll be nice, polite, considerate, if circumstances warrant.
But what if, one day, she'll be back in that same situation? Cafeteria. Cronies. Control. Cattiness ensues.
Jane Weiner wrote about her poor Nana's experiences in a home, sorry, uh, "independent living facility" ("Mean Girls in the Retirement Home"). We're back to high school, ladies.
The notion that a threat to seniors is their peers is somewhat new, and usually played for laughs. It goes against a truism handed down from mothers to daughters for generations: This, too, shall pass. Mean girls are not girls, or mean, forever. High school doesn’t last forever, everyone grows up. But Nanna’s experience suggests otherwise. It says that the cruel, like the poor, are always with us, that mean girls stay mean — they just start wearing support hose and dentures.
Surprisingly, I'm not completely disheartened by this news. It is upsetting to discover that despite the multitude of opportunities we are given to become better, we can trip and go flying in a moment. That by a certain age, the senior population may choose not to have morphed into elevated beings.
But it also means I wasn't overreacting to my unpleasant time in school. It wasn't that these girls were young and didn't know better, and would one day "grow up" and be nice. We are what we are by high school. "Growing up" has nothing to do with it.
It is, however, about bechira. We can choose when we're younger. We can choose when we're older.