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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Birds of a Feather (Should Find New Friends)

We’ve all had that moment. 

A friend invites you to hang out with people you’ve never met before, and it soon becomes apparent that they do not see the world like you do.  You crack a joke that’s not appreciated and then voice an opinion too quickly, soon feeling the tension rise and the emotions stir as buttons are irrevocably pressed and judgments are hastily made. Of course people remain cordial, faces frozen with pained smiles, all hoping to avoid appearing hostile. Eventually, you decide to just nod and smile, in a silent effort to just blend in, before making a speedy exit when socially appropriate.

Hmm…Uncomfortable indeed. 

I squirm a little bit as I recall moments like the one above, when I was surrounded by people who were simply different from me. Many of these moments occurred overseas, such as the time when my sister and I met a woman in Egypt, and were then shown up the steps to an apartment building where a bride and bridesmaids we did not know were anxiously preparing for a wedding many hours later. We sat on a bed amidst the scene across from a frail grandmother, silent due to the lack of a shared language, drinking tea and eventually saying our “ma’salama”s as we headed home. 

In other countries, despite my efforts to be aware, I’m sure I’m generally oblivious to subtle cultural cues and traditions, and often, the hosts will extend grace. I’ve found, however, that the most painfully awkward moments can occur on my own home turf. On this home turf that is the Midwest, and in my native language of English, I can understand not only the words, but the perceived connotations and nuance of what people are saying, and what they actually mean. I can decode their body language, further adding to what their words do or do not communicate. This is a beautiful thing when I am having a heart-to-heart with a trusted and close friend, but it can become problematic when I am among people who don’t share a similar worldview as me. 

In the past year, I’ve missed out on a lot because my comfort zone persuaded me to live out the cliche saying, “Birds of a feather flock together”. That changed, though, when I began to discover the benefits of flocking with a different crew of birds:

DISCUSSION: Discussions do not take place when everyone agrees on an issue.  When dialogue is able to occur in a gracious manner, every side is able to grow and further discover why they believe what they believe (and if they truly believe it at all). You may still disagree at the end of the conversation, but you have both grown your knowledge about the opposing (or simply different) view. 

EXPANDED WORLDVIEW: As you live life with people of different backgrounds and values, you can begin to see the world from their perspective.  This can be exemplified through watching a movie with people and then asking each person what they took away from it.  Hearing what is important to others can help shed light on previously unknown issues, as well as on areas that could use improvement or reevaluation in your own life. 

VARIETY OF EXPERIENCE: Hanging out with people who are different from you can open up your life to a lot of new hobbies, cultures, outings, and adventures.  Some examples from my own life include a sword fighting challenge, medieval reenactment festival, an indie concert with Jamaicans and huge dinosaur sculptures, a yoga class with elderly ladies, cave explorations on grueling hikes…If you are seeking to make a living in art, writing, or other areas that require creativity, a variety of experience gives you more to pull from in terms of things to look to for inspiration.  It is stretching to try new things and take risks, but if you are okay with potentially failing, you may be able to make some very valuable friendships and memories, as well as learn to love some things you never thought you could.

We’ve all been in situations where we feel like the odd-man-out; it is an inevitable part of life.  However, if you become comfortable with being uncomfortable, you can really help to train yourself for more growth in discussions, an expanded worldview, and a greater variety of experience. Birds of a feather do often flock together, but with those kind of benefits, it is easy to see that those birds should definitely find new friends. 

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