Some runners love running alone. They crave solitude and silence, and perform better if their feet are the only ones on the pavement.
I am the kind of runner who thinks training is always better when you’re hanging out with a fun group of people. Victory is sweeter when you share it with others, and it feels great to greet your friends when you cross the finish line.
I recently moved to a new city, so I’ve been trying to find a new running group. Last week, I joined a group that had no idea what the word “hospitable” meant. The leader greeted returning runners, who clumped into small gaggles of people who were not interested in talking to the new girl. Nobody said hello, nobody welcomed me.
During the run, I found myself falling behind as they pulled ahead, engrossed in catching up with one another, trading stories about their weekends and their families. After they turned a corner, I found myself alone. They’d forgotten I existed and hadn’t even noticed I was gone.
The last time I felt that terrible about being excluded by a clique was in high school. In these modern days, we think of “hospitality” as a few doughnuts on a plate after Mass, or something your parents do with coffee when they have friends over. But hospitality has everything to do with life as a modern teen.
A lack of hospitality and inclusion in the high school culture is one of the many reasons so many teens feel so lonely and left out. Cliques and tight groups aren’t hospitable by nature. They’re exclusionary.
Belonging to a clique feels really great, but you can get so caught up that you don’t — and can’t — see that others are falling behind. In a clique, you can’t see that you’re not being hospitable. You can’t see that you’re mean.
My fellow runners weren’t being mean to me on purpose. They didn’t decide to leave me out. They simply did not notice that I was even there and that made me feel the most terrible of all.
You don’t need to become everyone’s friend to make sure your circle of friends is hospitable and inclusionary.
Coffee and doughnuts are one of the ways that churches show their parishioners that they’re noticing them. The essence of high school hospitality is to greet, to smile, to include — to actively make sure everyone feels noticed and valued.
I remember when Mackenzie, one of the most popular girls in my high school, noticed that I was feeling a little down after bombing a math test. All she did was take a few minutes to tell me that I’d do better next time. I felt like a million bucks.
It was a really simple conversation, but it made me feel better, all because she noticed what was going on around her. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think that’s the reason Mackenzie was so popular: She noticed other people. She was truly nice to those around her, and she made an effort to look outside of her clique. People responded to that.
I think those runners could learn something from Mackenzie.
In high school, moving out of your comfort zone to notice someone else is one of the most hospitable things you can do. Give it a try.