When I wrote that, my friend Leigh Kramer pushed back a little in the comments. She said, in part, “…not many people seek out friendship with those who are different from them and I think we all miss out when this happens. Having a diverse group of friends requires some intentionality.”
I think this is an important point, and something that I missed in that post.
I have not always been good about this. Much of my life, I have only sought friends in the places where I was comfortable. I wasn’t looking for ways to shut out people who were different from me, but I also wasn’t going outside of what I already knew in order to find people with whom I could develop a relationship. I stayed primarily in my insular world where I didn’t expect to be challenged. Thank heavens I was challenged even there, but it wasn’t a challenge that I was seeking.
For those years, I don’t think I was being very friendly.
Oh, I wasn’t mean. I didn’t shun people who were different from me. I didn’t intentionally insult people who didn’t fit my mold. I didn’t roll my eyes at the idea of meeting someone who wasn’t like me.
But I rarely went out of my way to meet a diverse group of people.
In the past few years, that has changed.
Particularly since Jason told me that he was an atheist, I have put myself into situations where I will meet people who are a good bit different from me. At first I did it because I wanted to understand more about him. But that has extended to me looking for situations where I can understand more about myself. I didn’t wait for other people to come to me to find opportunities to be friendly. I began looking for places where I could push myself to be friendly, even when it wasn’t comfortable for me.
The result of being friendly has been that I have made some new friends.
But those friendships have developed out of our commonalities. I have found friends in unexpected places, but the why of our friendship is the same as it was when I was looking in the smaller circles. Similar senses of humor. Similar tastes. Similar passions. Similarities in some or all of these categories have made our differences – even some profound differences – much less important.
I am so thankful that the friends that I already had ended up being far more diverse than I initially thought. Discovering that their lives extend beyond the small boxes that I had put them into allowed me to see that in so many other people and I will never be able to repay them for the gift that they have given me.
Most of us probably know that being friendly and being friends are two different things, but I think the way these are achieved is also different. I can be friendly regardless of differences, and sometimes being friendly requires that I seek out specific opportunities to interact with people who are different from me. When I stay within my comfort zone, I am limiting how friendly I can be. And that puts an artificial limit on who I can add to my friends.
When it comes to developing friendships, I still believe that we will find friendship with those we’re like. I can’t think of a single person who I would call a friend who isn’t like me in some key way.
But maybe when we choose to be friendly in ways that stretch us, the places where we find those similarities may be stretched as well.