Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Rise Above Pettiness by Setting Good Example

DEAR HARRIETTE: Within the realm of high school hierarchy, groups of girls micro-divide faster than bacteria undergoing meiosis. I think it is very silly that by the end of senior year drama can still shake friendships to a cataclysmic extent. I do not understand why people still get hung up on the smallest thing. However, every time I voice that we should be better than this fight or that argument, I risk becoming a social pariah. Now, to fear my own ostracism after placing myself above drama seems, frankly, quite hypocritical.

How can I carry on ignoring that which I find immature if I fear its same reverberations? -- Hypocrite, Albany, N.Y.

DEAR HYPOCRITE: It is the little things that make all the difference in life. What may seem petty or unbelievably unimportant to you may seem terribly difficult or painful for someone else. It is also true that the people you care about the most are the ones who can most easily hurt your feelings, precisely because you care about them.

There is little you can do to change your friends' reactions. What you can do that is not hypocritical is to demonstrate uplifting, friendly, respectful behavior. Stop pointing out the pettiness that you believe defines their actions. Instead, behave in the way that you would like for them to behave. Be a good friend. Be thoughtful. Do not talk about others. Keep good company.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am the costume assistant for my school play, and the costume head is juggling a lot. Many times I have offered my assistance as well as some possible solutions to the problems she was having, but she is resistant to my help. I ask her constantly if she has anything for me to do, and she just stares at me blankly. She generally seems flustered, and the wardrobe room is a mess. The actors cannot find their costumes. It is a bad situation. How do I try to be helpful without making her feel as though I am stepping on her toes? -- Helping the Juggler, Chicago

DEAR HELPING THE JUGGLER: The best way for you to support the work at hand and not seem to be trying to usurp her power is to pay close attention and constantly evaluate what needs to be completed. Keep a running list of the challenges, and at the end of each day, show her what you have noticed needs attention and make recommendations for how to handle things. Ask for her input.

When she is feeling overwhelmed, the general question of what you can do to help is likely impossible for her to answer. The question is too big. Instead, make suggestions such as how to organize the wardrobe room. Indeed, you could probably go ahead and organize it so that things are in their place. If she doesn't like what you have done, she will surely suggest adjustments. As questions come up from the cast or other people that you do not have the authority to answer, write them down and provide her with the list of questions. Let her know that you are happy to share her responses with those individuals or just turn it over to her. In other words, be actively helpful.