Do People Take You Seriously? ...by Bill Knell
One of the things that still stands out in my mind about High School was how students reacted to one another. It was a real sign of things to come. There were cliques and groups that made up a hierarchy. If you were lucky enough to be in the right clique or group, the people that mattered would hang on every word you said. If not, you were invisible and ignored. To be taken seriously, you either had to be in with the right crowd or gain an advantage over them. Sadly, the same may be said of everyday life.
I had a nice group of friends in high school and we all enjoyed one another's company. But it would be more then a stretch of the truth to say we were influential or important. For better or worse, we were just teens being ourselves and getting through school. The only time that being ignored really perturbed me was when I was in a classroom full of people from a popular clique or group. It really bothered me to watch one of them tell a joke and have the entire room burst into laughter, while any attempt at humor that I made was met by annoyed silence. Then, two things happened that changed my view of life and gave me a peek at the big picture.
I was in eleventh grade and it was Christmas Vacation. A friend and I went to a movie together with our girlfriends. It was a warm December in Florida that year and everyone was out enjoying the weather. But as we came out of the movie, it really started to rain. I volunteered to run around the corner to get my car and pick everyone else up in front of the theater. Just after I got into the car, I saw a familiar face.
Jim was a football player and head of the fraternity that everyone wanted to join in our High School. Joining in high school would mean an easier time getting in at college. Although relatively bright, the guy was some kind of an idiot when it came to personal behavior! He was always getting drunk and in trouble. Except for his father's money and local influence, Jim would have been long gone from the fraternity, the football team and the school.
I saw Jim trying to move his car, which was stuck in the middle of the street. All the rain must have gotten into his engine. It just kept stalling out, he was very annoyed and seemed to be in a big hurry. Since people were waiting for me, I pulled out and drove to the front of the theater. While my friend and our dates were getting into my car, a police vehicle pulled up behind me and turned on it's lights. An officer approached my window and asked if I knew Jim. I told the officer that I knew of him and what he looked like, but that we had never had a conversation. He asked if I would mind following him around the corner.
We pulled around to where I had been parked before. It seemed that Jim had thrown a beer bottle at some elderly couple's car because they beeped their horn at him while his own vehicle was stuck in the middle of the street. The couple drove away and flagged down a police car a block away. Meanwhile, Jim got rid of the broken bottle which had never actually hit the car, but ended up in the middle of the street. This must have happened just seconds before I ran around the corner and got into my car.
The police officer asked me if I had seen anything happen between Jim and the elderly couple? I hadn't and told the officer so. Because it was early in the night, Jim had only consumed a couple of beers and wasn't drunk. He told me later that he had wisely disposed of any other empty or filled bottles in his car down a nearby storm drain. This was the early 1970's and a time before breath tests or drunk drivers were taken very seriously. Without any real evidence or damage to their car, the police officer reluctantly told the elderly couple there was nothing he could do.
After the police and elderly couple drove off, Jim came over and shook my hand. He was convinced that I had seen everything and was just clamming up to be a good guy. He assured me that this good deed would not be forgotten. It was a big deal to him because Jim had pretty much worn out his welcome with local police, school officials and his football coach. Any more trouble and he would end out of the spotlight and in jail.
My return to school after Christmas Vacation was a real shocker. All of a sudden I was no longer invisible! Everyone in the fraternity and the elite groups wanted me involved in one project or another. The dismal truth was that people were suddenly interested in what I had to say because they had a reason to be. The irony was so thick you could cut it with a dull knife! I politely refused most of what was offered and decided that being with my real friends was a better deal.
At a later time I started an after school club for extra credit based on a hobby of mine. I had been interested in the study of UFOs and the Paranormal for many years, so I decided to start a club where like-minded people could meet and discuss the topic. I was stunned when the first meeting was packed with students and faculty. Most had some sort of experience to talk about, so I made a brief presentation, answered some questions and allowed people to share their own paranormal stories. Once again, everyone wanted to talk with me and get involved in my hobby. But this time the invitations were more sincere.
It became obvious to me that people who get taken seriously and don't come originally from a position of power are those who have something meaningful to contribute to those who do. When it comes to business or personal relationships, you can either be a leader or a follower. A spectator or a player. The key is knowing which role is appropriate at what time? Being a Leader just for the sake of it is a non-starter. The position you take or make for yourself should be one that directly benefits you! This doesn't mean you should be selfish and self-centered, it means you have to look out for yourself by making sure you're always in the least vulnerable position.
As the incident with Jim illustrates, it's not just getting there, but the way you do it that counts. Every relationship you have is an important one. Ending one just to start another will create an enemy. The phrase, "Blessed are the peacemakers" reveals a very true fact of life. People are going to hold you in high regard if you can manage to work with all sides in any situation and still come out ahead without squashing the little guys! And who knows, the little guy you squash today could be the giant that steps on you tomorrow.
If you want to be noticed and taken seriously, be decisive and honest. Believe in yourself and find an area left uncovered where you can make a serious contribution. Work with people, not for them and always be sure that your peers consider you a partner, not a peon!