Who Do You Hang With? – Maybe It’s Time To Widen Your Circle; Really!

People are different.  And the more diversity between the people, the more differences there are.

So – here is the question of the day:  Do you always hang out with the same people – the same kinds of people? If so, maybe it’s time broaden your circle.

This simple advice is a key part of the message from Yale’s President Rick Levin to the arriving freshman class.   (I read this in this blog post by Arianna Huffington).  Here’s a key excerpt:

Levin pointed out how the students “come from all 50 states and 58 nations” and urged them (and their parents) to go “entirely outside the range of your past experience,” and “stretch yourself.” “If the friends you make here are exclusively those who come from backgrounds just like your own and went to high schools just like your own,” he said, “you will have forfeited half the value of a Yale education. Seek out friends with different histories and different interests; you will find that you learn the most from the people least like you.”

I’ve read plenty of books that offer similar advice.  Like this:

Sticking to the people we already know is a tempting behavior.  But unlike some forms of dating, a networker isn’t looking to achieve only a single successful union.  Creating an enriching circle of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix, all the time.
(So, therefore):
Set a goal for yourself of initiating a meeting with one new person a week.  It doesn’t matter where or with whom.
Keith Ferrazzi, Never Eat Alone:  And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (The Ultimate Networker Reveals How to Build a Lifelong Community of Colleagues, Contacts, Friends, and Mentors)

and

Seize any opportunity, or anything that looks like opportunity.  They are rare, much rarer than you think.  Remember that positive Black Swans have a necessary first step:  you need to be exposed to them.  If a big publisher (or a big art dealer or a movie executive or a hotshot banker or a big thinker) suggests an appointment, cancel anything you have planned:  you may never see such a window open up again.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan:  The Impact of the HIGHLY IMPROBABLE

In my own life, I am always learning from the wide array of people I “hang with.”  I speak monthly at the Urban Engagement Book Club, which includes a true mix of people:  non-profit leaders, business folks, some people who are pretty much in the homeless category, retired people…  I have experienced no other mix of people like it in my lifetime.

And I teach at a local community college.  There are people from multiple ethnic backgrounds, and all levels of the economic spectrum.  My students teach me so much every semester.

And then we have the audience of business leaders who attend the First Friday Book Synopsis.

And I lead regular sessions (Current Events and reading/discussion groups) with retired people.

You put all of these together, and my life is a rich, diverse set of moments that represent genuine diversity.

But I need to become even more intentional about this – as, I suspect, you do.  So, here some suggestions for us all:

1)    Go to at least one gathering, on a regular basis, that is made up of people who are not all “like you.”
2)    Read authors, and types of books, that are outside of your beaten path, and represent points of view that you disagree with.
3)    Look for another “new” person, and some new event, regularly.

Diversity is good for us.  But experiencing true diversity will not happen by accident.  You have to get intentional about it.  There are people to meet, ideas to discover, viewpoints to ponder.

Hanging with people who are not all just like you may be the most neglected learning discipline of them all.

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