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Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Get My Friends to Be Nicer?

Auntie SparkNotes: How Can I Get My Friends to Be Nicer?

Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
My friends are the family that I chose, I guess. But they can be jerks to a lot of people that I know, and I'm not sure how to tell them how hurtful their comments about intelligence are.

See, a lot of my friends are in this program for prodigies at my school, and they've all been a part of it since elementary school. They basically didn't talk to anyone outside of the program until high school. They can be really rude about anyone else's intelligence or views, no matter what it is, because they just want to prove someone wrong.

It really bothers me that they won't be friends with someone just because they perceive them as being below them intelligence wise. I know there are some of them that didn't even like me until I was in AP Chem, just because they thought I was an idiot. Last year (for example), when one of my friends had just found out her score on the ACT, which was a good score, one of them had to tell her how they had gotten a 35 when they took it sophomore year, and that it really shouldn't be that hard for someone to get a 30 on the ACT. They didn't understand that it was rude to say that.

One of the principals at my school told them last year that they needed to work on their "emotional intelligence". They completely made fun of that, and in turn, me, when I agreed that it wouldn't be bad to be a bit more compassionate. How do I get them to be nicer? Or is it just a lost cause? Because I don't think I want to lose anyone as a friend.

Really! And why might that be, Sparkler? Because these friendships are so rewarding? Because these people are such lovely company? Because spending time with them brings so much joy to your life?

No, seriously, I'm asking: is there actually a reason why you'd want to continue hanging out with this bunch of poisonous asshats? I mean, most people with a toxic friend or friends lead off their letters with some sort of nod to the person's good qualities. But I don't know, dude; you just sound kind of beaten, like you're continuing these friendships only because you think you can't unmake the decision to do so.

Only that's the great thing about friends being the family you choose: when the family you've chosen turns out to be a bunch of total jerks, you can choose a better one.

Also, let's just be honest: your friends are jerks. Not misguided, not uncomprehending, but intentionally and consciously mean. They're not ignorant of the effects that their snotty comments; they're not unaware of the rudeness of belittling somebody else's achievements. They've been told directly by you and others that their behavior is totally unkind.

It's not that they don't know they're being awful. It's that they just don't care.

But hey, that's what happens when you put a bunch of kids together in an exclusive, insular group, tell 'em they're better and smarter than everybody else, and allow them to go through life without having contact with anyone or anything that might interfere with that worldview. (It's not coincidence that a certain, um, other youth organization used all these same tactics back in the day with fairly horrifying results.) And after all that, you cannot singlehandedly convince your friends to suddenly develop empathy for the people they see as vermin. You've seen what happens when you try. They're going to keep acting like pompous twits until they have a compelling reason not to, and the knowledge that they're hurting people just isn't compelling to them. (See: emotional intelligence, lack thereof.)

What you need to decide is how you feel about these friends, knowing that the meanness isn't going to stop—and knowing that it may well cost you your friendships with the people they're being mean to. Because unfortunately, that's where your friends' bad behavior really does become your problem: even though you're not a jerk yourself, and even if you're doing your best to be a voice of kindness and fairness within the group, the fact that you're still spending time with them is eventually going to be the thing that speaks loudest.

Of course, if you're okay with that... well, maybe your friends are truly terrific in some way that you haven't mentioned, and maybe it's enough to make up for how truly unpleasant they are to everyone else. (Hard to imagine, but hey, anything's possible.) What's important is that you think about it, and think about whether you want to keep these people in your life, before they end up being the only ones in it by default. Good luck.

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Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, friends, frenemies, jerks, compassion

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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