Throughout my teenage years I spent every summer working as a ride operator at Six Flags Magic Mountain in my hometown of Santa Clarita, California.  My fondest memories from the summers of 1988-1992 are not with friends I knew from school, they are with the friends that I got to know while working at a theme park.  People I bonded with over the absurdity of working under the leadership of “bosses” who were also teenagers, as well as the craziness that comes from working with the general public under the inland Southern California sun.

During my tenure as a ride operator, I learned some valuable life lessons:

  • Bad things can happen when you fill up your belly with a liter of soda and processed pizza and then ride a spinning attraction.
  • Always wear deodorant if you’re going to spend 14 hours at a theme park in 100 degree weather.
  • Spandex shorts are flattering on no one.

But perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned from working at a theme park came from wearing uniforms.  At the impressionable age of 16 I befriended people who were very different from me because we were all dressed exactly the same.

Teenagers categorize their peers largely based on clothing and outward style.  However, at Magic Mountain it was common to talk to someone at work for weeks before you ever saw what they wore in real life.

The first time I went out with my ride crew after work, I was surprised by the differences in our appearance as we emerged from the employee locker room.  We looked like the cast of “The Breakfast Club” and actually drew stares from people when we walked into Denny’s together for a late night snack.

It was awesome.

I learned a lot about myself, other people, and the complexity of circumstances through my Magic Mountain friendships.  Those teenagers taught me how to listen, learn, and love well with people who’s life perspective and experiences differ greatly from mine.  As well as the value of inclusivity, and the worthwhile effort of getting to know a whole person rather than just a part.

The life lesson that I learned through my friendships at Magic Mountain are a significant part of the foundation upon which I develop my community now.

Forming opinions of others based on limited information, or only gravitating towards friendships with alike people is not just a teenage issue. Grown-ups do it too.  As a result we miss out on meaningful connections our enrich our lives and shape our perspectives in significant ways.

I was discussing this topic with a girlfriend recently and she suggested an intriguing idea – the next time one of us hosts a party with new people we should make it a theme party where everyone has to come wearing a white t-shirt and jeans.  A gathering where everyone looks as similar as possible, to see what surprising connections and friendships form as a result.

I think all of us have likely missed out on engaging in a special friendship because we decided someone was too different than us before we ever got to know them.  A White T Shirt & Jeans party sounds like a wonderful idea.

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