The description of the "inner ring" is so true. Everywhere there are independent systems or concentric circles of rings, these unwritten systems. In social psychology, we discussed in depth the phenomenon of group formation and the rather disturbing tendency toward "group think." I find that subject fascinating, and it makes me curious as to why human nature has a tendency to do that.
I also like his idea that "in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside." Amen. That pretty much describes my K-12 education. My mom still is preoccupied with rings after having a dismal middle school "ring" crisis. I will also admit that I am still tormented from the cliques and drama of middle school. I remember in 6th grade thinking that if I wore the right brand of blue jeans, maybe the popular kids would like me. I was so insecure, always worried about fitting in. Social standing was like life and death at Derby Middle School.
The existence of Inner Rings is unavoidable and perhaps even innocent, according to Lewis, but it causes LOTS of problems. As he wrote, "In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most." That brings back a lot of memories. Sometimes in middle and high school, I would "ignore" certain people on my way to class (i.e. not wave to them) because they weren't cool enough. I have a serious problem with gossip, partly because I ate gossip for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day growing up. My upper-class, consumerist schooling just reveled on the latest morsel of back-stabbing and drama. I don't look back with satisfaction in anything I've said about others in order to get someone's approval.
Lewis wrote this address to "convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care." This obsession with inner circles, Lewis said, comes from little trivial decisions. Also, "as long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want."
These words really convicted me, "But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There'd be no fun if there were no outsiders... Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence." Immediately, I thought of my short-lived sorority days (yeah, I know, I'm like the least likely person you'd ever expect to join a sorority). My mom told me stories of her awesome days in the sorority at U of M, and at age 12, I was already committed to rushing. I got to U of M and signed up for recruitment (which was a horrible, long, exclusive process). Different sororities "cut" you at different rounds. It was like a middle school popularity contest all over again. But the memories of my mom's stories danced in my head enough to keep me going. I pretended to be this preppy, bubbly girl who I wasn't. I got into my top choice sorority, and it was all about exclusivity. We had our secret rituals, meetings, and in my sorority, people became cliquish immediately. When I wouldn't dress up for our chapter meetings, I noticed people would ignore me more. I went to frat parties and bars (although I did not and will never, ever drink in my life, and I didn't then), just to feel like I belonged. I even compromised relationally and sexually to conform to everyone else. I started getting involved in my church and realizing that the sorority wasn't for me, but I still wanted to feel, well, wanted. I wanted to feel "in." The next year, during recruitment, I had just about had it. We were rating girls 1-7 on criteria such as "presentation" (appearance). One of my friends was cut from the sorority because a girl's conversation with her was "awkward." That was the last straw.
Leaving the sorority was the best decision I've ever made, but it makes me realize how much I yearn for acceptance. Indeed, "The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it." It is true that without that pressure, you will naturally be inside the circle of an "accidental" group without exclusivity, also called friendship. As Lewis concluded, "But he follows that desire he will reach no 'inside' that is worth reaching."