Vriezen: Diversity of friends fosters thinking


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Portrait of teenage friends

Claire Vriezen

When we seek out new groups of friends, we tend to gravitate toward those who have similar interests to us, similar ideologies, similar beliefs. It’s a safe feeling, to have friends that understand where you are coming from and understand your views. But sometimes it’s a bit too safe.

When we wrap ourselves in like-minded viewpoints and insulate ourselves from people that differ from us, we are limiting our knowledge base. Not only that, but we are also depriving ourselves of opportunities to express and refine our own opinions and ideas.

Whenever I see someone who is willing to openly discuss a significant difference of opinion, I gain a certain level of respect for that person. It takes courage to honestly explore ideas that contradict your own. There is the possibility that you might find yourself questioning preconceived notions, and to some, that is a place they don’t want to go.

The mark of a good leader is someone who willingly seeks out and listens to the counsel of those that disagree with them. President Abraham Lincoln famously assembled a cabinet made up of people who held vastly different opinions than him on many issues. Their voices forced him to look at other aspects of situations or legislation that he perhaps didn’t previously consider.

The same principle, ideally, should be applied to our everyday relationships. While we don’t need to completely surround ourselves with dissent, limiting ourselves to friends just like us can turn discussion of some topics into a circlejerk. The conversation simply becomes everyone reiterating their support of the group’s collective viewpoint.

Additionally, the idea of ideological diversity can help shape and refine our own beliefs. Young adults tend to hold one of two general worldviews: that of their parents or that of a completely opposite worldview. Politically conservative parents may produce like-minded children, because that is the view they have been raised with, or perhaps their children seek to differentiate themselves from their parents and become more liberal.

Seeking the company if those that would challenge your beliefs about the world will force you to explain why you believe that way. Do you support the death penalty? Why? Do you support programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security? For what reasons? Sometimes you may find that ideas you once held weren’t as well supported or logical as you once thought. More likely you will determine what exactly makes up the foundation of your views.

It’s doubtful that someone will simply say that they can’t be friends with a Democrat or someone who supports the war in Iraq. Those typically aren’t deal-breakers when it comes to forming relationships. But they may be deterrents, and they shouldn’t be.

Diverse friends foster self-reflection and critical thinking. Every now and then it’s important for our own growth to embrace and understand those that disagree with us. Because there will always be those that disagree with us. We should do what we can to expand our own thinking to learn from them.