The meaning behind The Private Joke

monkey in leather

Have you ever been sitting around with a bunch of friends and one of them says something odd or out of context and everyone else laughs hysterically, except you? If so, then you my friend, have just experienced The Private Joke.
The Private Joke is a secret shared among a group of friends. But it is so much more than just a joke. Most of the time the joke doesn’t even make sense, but the fact that it can be invoked and shared with just the elite few that know what it means, is the real purpose.

There is nothing funny about The Private Joke. 

The Private Joke is a way for a group to exclude others. Because they know the secret, they feel they are exclusive and this joke binds them together. It is typical behavior of children around high school age when cliques are most popular. It is never invoked for fun, but more as a way to say to the group that know the joke “Hey, he’s not one of us. Let’s make him uncomfortable. Let’s make sure he knows that he’s not one of us. Okay now, I’ll invoke the joke and you guys will all laugh. Let’s watch this stupid jerk try to keep up.”

I know a grown man that could make a living out of coming up with Private Jokes. He is constantly circling the wagons making sure that only the people he wants in the group are the ones that know the joke. Then he invokes constantly in order to maintain exclusivity. “Hey! Look at us! We have a private joke! In order to be one of us, you must know the joke! And you don’t know the joke, do you?”

I guess now would be a good time to tell you that the guy I just wrote about is in his sixties. Kind of grosses you out to think someone that old is still behaving like he’s in high school, doesn’t it? Do you wonder what he gets out of it?

I’ll tell you what he gets. He gets control. That’s right. The Private Joke is a means to control the group, and who is in the group. Heaven forbid anyone in the group shares the meaning of The Private Joke with any outsiders! This is what differentiates the group from everyone else.This is what makes the group special.

The Private Joke makes the group into a clique. To be a member of the clique, you must be invited to join. So, what is a clique? Simply defined in the dictionary; a clique is a small group of people with shared interests, who spend time together and exclude others.

Why would you want to be in a clique?

I Googled this question and found several entries. And guess what. They were all about kids in high school or in elementary school. There wasn’t much content out there about adults behaving like this. I suspect that’s because it is a behavior that you’re expected to outgrow. But I was still intrigued. Perhaps the advice they had about children’s cliques could apply to what I have seen in adult cliques? Here is what I found on kidshealth.org;

How Cliques Make Kids Feel Left Out

What Are Cliques?

Cliques are groups of friends, but not all groups of friends are cliques. The thing that makes a group a clique (say: klik) is that they leave some kids out on purpose. Usually one or two popular kids control who gets to be in the clique and who gets left out. Kids may act much differently than they did before they were part of the clique. They may even act differently today from how they were yesterday. It can be really confusing.

Everyone feels left out by friends once in a while. Friends are people just like us — they make mistakes and usually we can forgive them (after all, we make mistakes too!). Sometimes friends fight and make up again.

But sometimes kids form groups that they won’t let other kids belong to. A clique is a group of kids who hang out together and won’t let others join in. Sometimes kids in the clique are mean to kids they think are on the outside.

For instance, Trey and Steve always played basketball after school. But Zack started pushing Trey out of the group, and now even Steve was saying mean stuff to Trey. Same with Madison and Allie. They used to have sleepovers all the time, but now Cleo was hosting the sleepovers and she didn’t invite Madison.

Kids might form cliques in elementary school or in middle school. Sometimes cliques are made of kids who share an interest in something, like sports or computer games or music. Sometimes the kids in them want to be popular or want to belong. They might say you can only join in if you wear certain clothes, or they might make you feel bad if your mom or dad can’t afford the same stuff they can.

Both boys and girls have cliques, though people who study these groups say girl cliques may be more common. Girl cliques are often meaner and more hurtful in the way they treat girls who aren’t in the group.

Feeling Left Out

If you are on the outside of a clique, it can make you frustrated and confused. Maybe someone who was your BFF last week was mean to you and wouldn’t sit with you at lunch. It can make you feel like crying or just feel really angry or sad. You might feel lonely at lunch or after school, or even afraid if you feel that someone might pick on you or fight with you. You might be frustrated or upset because you don’t know what to do. You might feel hurt because of the ways other kids keep you out.

Why Do Other Kids Join Cliques?

One of the hard things about cliques is if a person who was your friend joins one and starts treating you differently. Sometimes, the problem starts with an argument between the two of you. But other times you can find yourself on the outside of a clique even if nothing happened.

Sometimes you get left out because you look, act, or dress differently from the other kids. Or just because you’re the “new kid” in class. Kids who get into cliques usually want to be popular and feel cool. Sometimes kids think that belonging to a clique will keep them from feeling left out. Some kids feel more powerful when they’re mean to other people (like bullies).

Kids in cliques sometimes act differently than they would outside the group. They often go along with what the others are doing, even if they know it’s not right — even if it means leaving out a friend.

Some kids might even feel bad about the way they treat other kids, but they can’t figure out how to be cool and still be nice to the person who’s not in the clique. This is no excuse, though. Plenty of kids manage to be nice to everyone — kids in and outside their closest group of friends — without being part of a clique.

Feeling Trapped in a Clique

Sometimes kids in cliques find that they don’t really want to belong to it anymore. They don’t want to leave others out and hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes they realize they’re missing out on being friends with great kids outside of the clique.

Some kids don’t want to be bossed around by the rules of the clique and don’t like that another kid is trying to be in charge of them. Being in a clique might mean that they have to give up some freedom and maybe even change the kind of people they are or what kind of music they like or clothes they want to wear.

Even if no one is being mean to you personally, you still might find it annoying if there are cliques you’re not welcome to be part of. Or you might be part of a clique, but are getting tired of being bossed around or worried that your so-called friends will embarrass you or play a mean joke on you. Maybe someone said something mean about you or a friend of yours online. Be careful what you post and say online — and always walk away from online taunts.

As kids get older, they can outgrow the need to be part of a clique or feel more relaxed about who is “in” and who is “out.” For some kids this takes a while. Most cliques have disappeared by the end of high school, making way for more fun and enjoyable friendship groups.

What You Can Do

If cliques are upsetting you, what can you do?

  • Find friends. If you find yourself left out of a certain group, focus on other friends. Hang out with kids who aren’t part of a clique. Sometimes this means finding older or younger kids to hang out with, or making friends outside school. Sometimes it means being open to kids who look or act differently than you do.
  • Speak up. If your group of friends has suddenly turned into a clique, speak up. It’s OK to say that you want to invite others to hang out with you, too. Be prepared for the fact that the clique might go on without you. On the other hand, others might follow your lead and stop acting so clique-y. Most schools have counselors and policies to help cliques from getting out of hand — maybe you could become an advisor or advocate, or write about it in the school paper.
  • Invite a friend. If you’re on the outside of a clique and you want to be friends with someone who’s in it, invite that person to do something with you. It might help if you can see your friend away from the other clique members. Maybe your mom or dad could arrange to have that friend visit at your house on the weekend. By spending time together, he or she might start realizing how silly it is not to hang out more often. But also be prepared for possible disappointment. Even if you have a great time together, your friend might still slip back into the clique when you’re all back at school.
  • Don’t take it out on yourself. Some kids feel they should try to change themselves — and that’s OK too. Maybe you want to get healthy and fit or learn to smile more and be less cranky — it’s great to work on yourself, but do it for you, not for anyone else. If some kids are mean to you because they think you don’t fit in, don’t let them make decisions about the kind of kid you are going to be. Decide for yourself and then get help to reach your goals. Ask a cool cousin or friend to help you revamp your wardrobe or get a new haircut. But only change yourself if it’s something you want to do.
  • Look for friends everywhere. The most popular and well-liked kids are the ones who are friendly to everyone. Do your best to let everyone feel welcome to talk to you. Look for chances to meet, talk with, and play with plenty of different kids. Is someone sitting alone at lunch? Why not ask her to sit at your table? Or maybe you noticed the kid standing outside the fence while you’re playing basketball. It’s time to invite him onto the court. Who knows — maybe the two of you will really click (which means to get along really well). Now that’s a much better kind of click!

I ended up re-posting most of the  article because I found it fascinating how much of this same information related to an experience I recently had with adults. I even high-lighted some of the text that hit a nerve with me, especially the part about when cliques should become a part of your past.

As kids get older, they can outgrow the need to be part of a clique or feel more relaxed about who is “in” and who is “out.” For some kids this takes a while. Most cliques have disappeared by the end of high school, making way for more fun and enjoyable friendship groups.

Really? I find this information intriguing.

Another part that hit a nerve with me was this one;

Some kids feel more powerful when they’re mean to other people (like bullies).

Kids in cliques sometimes act differently than they would outside the group. They often go along with what the others are doing, even if they know it’s not right — even if it means leaving out a friend.

Some kids might even feel bad about the way they treat other kids, but they can’t figure out how to be cool and still be nice to the person who’s not in the clique. This is no excuse, though. Plenty of kids manage to be nice to everyone — kids in and outside their closest group of friends — without being part of a clique.

Isn’t it interesting how much this information, pertaining to children, can be applied to something I have experienced in my adult life? Isn’t it odd that what I’m reading, written by professional, applies almost to the letter, to an incident that I struggled with? The reason I am so incredulous is that I already know that I shouldn’t have experienced this kind of behavior from my friends at my age!

I even re-posted the part about What to Do because some of it makes sense to me. Tell an adult is good advice. It was even good advice for me at the time. I needed to tell an adult because the folks I was dealing with were definitely immature.

What kind of an adult builds a clique, or wants to be a member of a clique?

Believe it or not, the answer to this question is the same for adults as it is for children that do it.

…sometimes kids form groups that they won’t let other kids belong to. A clique is a group of kids who hang out together and won’t let others join in. Sometimes kids in the clique are mean to kids they think are on the outside.

Cliques are formed by people who are insecure with who they are. They use the  group to build themselves up, to make others take notice. They will even bring folks into the clique that will add a bit of panache and make others want to join. The problem is, the people that want to join are usually the ones the clique leader is trying to keep out.

What should you do if you find your adult self in the midst of a clique? You do have options, but the most important option is one that also applies to children in the same situation. Here it is;

  • Don’t take it out on yourself. Some kids feel they should try to change themselves — and that’s OK too. Maybe you want to get healthy and fit or learn to smile more and be less cranky — it’s great to work on yourself, but do it for you, not for anyone else. If some kids are mean to you because they think you don’t fit in, don’t let them make decisions about the kind of kid you are going to be. Decide for yourself and then get help to reach your goals. Ask a cool cousin or friend to help you revamp your wardrobe or get a new haircut. But only change yourself if it’s something you want to do.

That’s right! Only change yourself if it’s something you want to do. I can tell you from my own experience that members of an adult clique are not happy people. Some of them might be, but most are not. The resentment levels are usually high and some of them want to feel important and they never are.

Individually they all have the same insecurity. “Are they talking about me behind my back? Why did she get her way paid? Am I not just as deserving as she is? How come he gets to make all of the decisions for the group? Why isn’t he making contributions and working just as hard as I am?” But they all change how they behave once they’re in the group’s presence so that they fit in, so that no one can see how much they’re hurting, or how left out they feel, or how unimportant and abused they feel, even though they’re a member of the same clique.

How can you tell the difference between a clique and a group of friends?

I actually had the privilege of experiencing this too.

When someone has no problem seeing behind the curtain and calling out the Wizard, it must be kind of scary. Once that curtain is pulled back and the booming voice, the flashing lights, the smoke and the mirrors are all revealed to be  fake, then all you have left to be, is yourself. Some people are just not prepared to be that exposed.

Once again, these are adults I’m writing about.

I am not perfect. I am just living my life the best way I know how to do it. I don’t know everything. But I do know that I am not clique material. I do not need an exclusive group of people to make me feel important or special. I don’t need to be included. And I will never exclude one of my friends just because the group tells me I have to. When it comes down to that, I’d rather just hang out with my friend and leave the group behind. I have found this to be the more rewarding and healthier path to take in the long run.

I will never change who I am in order to be liked.

I feel sorry for people that will.

In closing, the only Private Joke you will ever need to know is that even though you might not be privy to what the joke means, and you might not be a part of the clique, the one thing only you will know, is that at that moment, you are sitting in the midst of one very insecure bunch of people.

Find friends everywhere! I know I have and still do!

Note: What will an adult clique leader do if they ever read a post like this? They’ll make a Private Joke out of it. That’s all they know how to do. 

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About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
This entry was posted in All kinds of Advice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The meaning behind The Private Joke

  1. Pingback: HIGH SKOOL CLIQUES « Sonia Mukundane

  2. When writing this piece I started out with this sinking feeling. I re-lived my experience and felt that old frustration all over again. As I was finishing up I finally “got” the joke. I finally understand what happened. There is nothing evil about this kind of group, it is just horribly immature and they can be mean. That’s okay though…I don’t have to engage 🙂

    Like

    • Regyna Longlank says:

      Yeah I guess I am still mad. I don’t have to engage either, but there must be something about all that drama I miss because I still think about it sometimes. It still makes me sad that it has to be that way, as usual I just don’t get it. Seems like we could all get along but then I’m not willing to accept who I would have to be to make that happen. What I really meant to say is I wouldn’t want to be in a club that didn’t want you in it. Cuz you are fun. But more than that you are real, and not a two faced backstabber, which I personally appreciate.

      Like

  3. whine-wine-whatever says:

    You’ve just hit my ‘way-back’ button and transported me ‘way back’ to Jr. High and High School. Oh, the stories that came rushing back to me! I won’t bore you with too many details or meaningless first names or the pain I witnessed others experience. But I never ‘approved’ of cliques.
    My senior year class had close to 900 students — it was a very large, newly built school. I was a member of the first 4-year graduating class; meaning I was part of the first freshmen class ever. There were several Junior Hi schools that fed into our Hi School. Ergo, there were many pre-existing cliques tossed together, willy-nilly, into the freshmen blender, a situation already teeming with angst. The cliques eventually settled into the obvious groups: the jocks/cheerleaders, the nerds, the greasers, the cool druggies/ arty/hippies, the band and theater people, the losers/slackers, the math whizzes, the writers, ther pretty people, etc. I was never interested in “joining” any of them. If I wanted to talk to someone, have lunch with someone, invite someone over for a bikeride, I’d simply jump in and do it. I didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought. I could “hang out” with every single clique at any time, with no repercussions from others. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘popular’ kid, but most of my peers knew me or knew of me. I was a math whiz, a decent+ writer, friendly to everyone, captain of the 48-member drill team, a practical joker, National Honor Society, graduated in the top 3# of my class, blahblahblah. But “clique” people liked to be around me for what I believe are these reasons: I’m funny as-all-get-out :), a good listener, non-judgmental, well-rounded intellectually, respectful of any and all — with no thought given to color or clothing or intelligence level. I’d often seek out the loner, the underdog (thx, Reg), and try to find their strengths or interests and help them to build on those in conversations with others or chatting with that loner in the hall, where everyone could see. The cliques would gather and whisper, and laugh at others, taunting some to tears. I never let that slide. I’d pull one of them aside privately and explain what I thought was wrong with what they did. At times, it did change some people. I guess I always tried to find something — anything — in a person that was worthwhile or interesting, that perhaps they couldn’t see for themselves. And that they didn’t need any approval from a clique to feel worth.

    Yeesh. So that was kinda completely off-topic, huh. You were talking about adult cliques, which I’ve never experienced. Thank Gawd. That involves jealousy, confidence or lack thereof, respect or lack thereof, a sense of worth, superiority complexes, oh, yeah, BULLYING…..I could go on, I guess, but I learned about all of that crap in High School. Didn’t everyone? heh. Apparently not.
    Life’s too short, kids, for that kind of behavior. And that’s not a private joke.
    (wordy much?)

    Like

  4. Pingback: Madeline Laughs takes a peek at the Past | Madeline Scribes

  5. Pingback: the word Secret | Madeline Scribes

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