Friends Who are Different and a Little Bit Scary Make Us Grow
Unexpected friendship teaches us, like nothing else. When I arrived at Texas Woman’s University in 1990, I found myself immersed in growth and diversity. I suddenly had gay and lesbian friends, after growing up in a culture that forbid same-sex relationships. (They existed, but underground). I had Jewish friends and Muslim friends and atheist friends – and these people were so very generous, kind, and knowledgeable. They defied the characterizations I was taught by people who were mainly afraid.
I’ve come to believe that diversity makes us smarter. Difference causes us to open ourselves to the beauty and interest all around. Diversity creates intellectual and spiritual growth. Difference makes us evolve. And having friendships with people who are different from us in some major cultural way forces us to notice our inherited power – and share it . . . which causes all kinds of healthy emotional change.
A new study shows that people with diverse friendships are more open to experience than people who only hang out with those who look and act like them. By extension, being closed to experience locks us into one way of viewing the world and a culturally limited range of friends. Being resistant or closed-off keeps us from adventures of change, growth, and evolution.
Think about this for a moment.
Evolution. (Scary term?). Change. Growth. The religious leaders of my childhood church HATED the forward movement of ideas and practices. They HATED changes to how people did relationships, spoke, formed families, dressed, made music, or grew facial hair. “Modernity,” they said with a sneer. Closed to experience. Closed, meaning scared. Scared to share power. Scared to face change. Scared of annihilation.
But change is constant.
We’ll never cloister ourselves fully in the presence of people who act, think, and look like us. But if we allow ourselves to notice change or difference with an open heart, a calm receptiveness, we open our selves to forward movement with all that is. We can go on that ride, enjoy the breeze and the passing scenery, or we can stand in the queue, grip the hand-railing, and (try to) stay where we’ve been, resenting everyone who flows with the changing universe.
So, how many of these do you have?
- transgender friends (if you’re not)
- friends whose politics make you chafe
- acquaintances with a lot less money than you
- friends who disagree with your religious views
- regular contact with someone who pushes you to learn new things
- regular contact with someone homeless