For the Birds

Birds of a feather flock together. The saying came to mind when I recently drove by a park where a couple of hundred Canada geese were resting comfortably in the cold.

Research shows that it’s not only birds that hang out with their own kind. People do too. It’s a myth that opposites attract; in fact, similar do.

Multiple studies and simple observations show this. I even found this when I studied audience reactions to an African film. Even though the film was made in a completely different culture and region, audience members were drawn to the characters and story because of the cultural proximity. One person said, “They’re African like me!” In a time and place lacking locally made films, seeing people like them on a screen was significant.

If you give cameras to budding photography students, and they go and shoot people who look like them. Whites photograph whites. Polynesians photograph Polynesians, etc.

Ask people with whom they socialize and they will likely tell you about friends from their church, neighborhood, work or kid’s school. They tend to be of the same ethnicity, economic strata and education level. They also tend to be the same religion.

We are quite naturally drawn to those who are similar us. But we don’t have to limit ourselves. We are not birds!

We have the sophistication to be driven by factors other than instinct! We have free will, live in complex social networks, and have the ability to create new realities. We can actually rise above the narrow limitations of our social groups and actively seek out new ones. But it takes intentionality.

I used to work with a very close-knit group. Even though group members were spread around the world, we had a pretty narrow set of friends. We hung out with people who thought like us and had the same goals as us.

Even though I made somewhat of an effort to make friends outside the group, it wasn’t until I left the group and intentionally set out to form new social connections that my social networks got really diverse.

While it may be easy to make friends on the playground when we’re five, it is harder at fifty. But it’s possible. It’s SO possible.

Three years ago I started a group that meets in my home twice a month. Everyone knows me, so I’m the obvious touch point they all have in common. But getting to know each other, everyone in the group is enjoying the different personalities, careers, politics and spiritual journeys. It’s been so good for everyone.

As you consider your priorities this year, I hope you’ll decide to widen your exposure, find new friends, and experience life outside your comfort zone. You’ll find yourself escaping your sometimes-narrow perspectives, delighting in thoughts and activities you never knew, and having more influence than you ever imagined. I guarantee your life will be richer. And will so will others.