Why We Need Friends Who Are Different Than We Are

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
Lucy Lambriex/Getty

It’s generally easier to make friends with people we have a lot in common with than people who are our polar opposites. Conversations flow freely. Activities and outings are easily agreed upon when get-togethers happen. There is a lot less disagreement when we hang with people who have similar values and parenting styles. Friends who think like us can confirm our sense of right or wrong and provide voices of commiseration and solidarity.

There’s nothing wrong with running in tight circles with like-minded friends; it’s a blessing to have this type of comfort and safety net. But we also need friends who are not like us. We need to find people who will challenge us.

During yoga sessions on my mat, whether at home or in the studio, I always make sure to include an inversion, which is a fancy way of saying I get my feet over my head in one of several poses. I have learned that the point of this is to change my perspective. From headstands to having my legs up on a wall, I am literally looking at the world from a new angle. And depending on the pose I choose, I experience different levels of comfort. In some cases I am even a little uncomfortable. This forces me to focus on my body and breathing in intentional ways. I can’t be on autopilot when I’m upside down.

We need people in our lives who change our perspective. Discomfort doesn’t have to equate to conflict, but it can be a good challenge to the way we think or the way we do things. If nothing else, it can provide for some interesting discussion. Surrounding ourselves with people whose opinions are the same as ours and whose answers are the ones we want to hear can close us off to growth and possibility. Continuously surrounding ourselves with same-minded people can make us closed-minded.

Personal growth doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful; it can simply mean thinking beyond the obvious. Facebook, Netflix, and Spotify all have algorithms that allow each service to suggest people, shows, and podcasts I would like based on my searches and habits of selection. It’s easy to stay and mingle in those suggestions, but every once in a while I will deviate completely. I will seek out and watch or listen to something that is a topic I’m not familiar with or one that I’m pretty sure I will hate. Sometimes topics are given to me by a person who doesn’t presume to know what I like because they don’t know me well enough to say, “OMG did you see XYZ?! You will love it!”

I don’t do this to torture myself. I do it because I want to learn. I want to be surprised. Sometimes I want to be proven wrong. I look for new experiences and new people because I don’t want to stay stuck on autopilot.

An article published by BBC News reminds us that when we expose ourselves to a more diverse group of people or circle of friends, we’re “forced to process complex and unexpected information. The more people do this, the better they become at producing complex and unexpected information themselves.” This helps us embrace diversity, think more creatively, and provides an opportunity to gain perspective from someone with a different socio-economic background, race, education or religion than us. A meat lover talking to a vegan could make for enriching dialogue—or a heated debate.

I don’t love group work, yet some of the best work I’ve done has come from a group or partnered project. That’s the point, though. Problems are often best solved when people can come together to reach a common goal while bringing unique experiences and expertise to the table. When multiple options can be presented and argued, the best plan can be found. This requires letting go of ego a bit, though. Surrounding ourselves with people who are not like us can be irritating and can cause some anxiety-producing confrontation. It takes compromise and patience.

If I’m able to take a step back in these situations, I can see that in some cases my gut instinct is to run in the other direction in disagreement. I assume the other person isn’t as smart, as wise, or as right as I am. But I don’t always have to be right. I don’t always have to agree, either, but I can hear someone out without feeling personally attacked.

You can volunteer in your community, attend a library lecture series, or join a local sports club to meet unlike-thinkers who will expose you to new books, movies, or types of comedy. Hit up a museum or buy a ticket to a play that is way outside of your usual genre. I know we are busy and our time is limited. We want to spend it doing the things we already know we love. But, because time is limited, I also want to spend it exploring what I may love. I want to be sure my life is full of curiosity, building new and meaningful connections. I want a life that extends far beyond the shallowness of my own knowledge.

I am so thankful for my friends who don’t always tell me what I want to hear; they may know what I need to hear and when, but the ones who don’t sugarcoat the facts or feed into the ideas I have already turned over are the ones who help me the most when I need advice or a plan.

It’s okay to deviate from the playlist. You will benefit from finding friends in unexpected and diverse places.

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