I remember quite clearly when I was in high school an unsaved coworker “interpreted” a conversation on popular music for me, explaining references that were beyond my knowledge. At the other person’s puzzled look, my friend said, “She knows a lot about classical music, but she knows nothing about pop or rock.” The exact response was “Ohhhh. That’s cool… in a weird sort of way.”
This event was surprising to me because I had expected a negative response to my oddness, but in fact it was respected… in a weird sort of way. I’m not going to spend time discussing whether the oddness is good or bad, or whether some forms of oddness should be prevented. I think those answers will come as we consider a different question. When is it okay to take steps in order to prevent social awkwardness?
- Most importantly, my motives must be primarily concerned about the testimony of Christ, not my own desire for “cool kids.” Probably every person can think of a variety of people in his experience who have been offensive and repulsive. We naturally want our children to avoid these traps, but if our motive is for them to avoid embarrassment or offensiveness, we will make bad decisions. Sometimes doing right in itself causes embarrassment and offensiveness. If instead, our motive is for the glory of God, then we have a better basis from which to act.
- We must distinguish the state of being odd with sinful arrogance, impatience, and self absorption. I suspect much of what we want our children to avoid is simply sinful behavior, completely separate from what movies our children enjoy or their ability to talk with unsaved children. Instead of addressing the sinful and offensive behavior that hurts the cause of Christ, parents may focus on hobbies or interaction with popular culture and unsaved people. Sadly, the sinfulness remains regardless of the measures taken to prevent nerdness.
- It is helpful to first distinguish between personality and skill. We often forget that some children have God-given personalities that are more or less aware socially, regardless of environment or upbringing. Those who are intelligent socially must have love and patience with those who are not. Those who struggle socially must love others by learning as best as they can how not to give offense. If we confuse personality and skill, we risk discouraging a child by unrealistic expectations. We risk impatience when we assume all children learn social skills without direct teaching. And we admire or praise some children for traits just as shallow as appearance or intelligence.
- Finally, it is helpful to consider that there are advantages as well as disadvantages to being socially aware, or socially indifferent. Sometimes, knowing and caring what other people think can be a stumbling block to doing right confidently. When we view a personality trait as entirely positive or entirely negative, we limit our understanding of how God can use each person for His glory.