It can be easy to forget that not everyone lives in the same way you do, but we all do it. Whatever our normal is seems like it is “the” normal for everyone, everywhere. While this might not seem like a big deal, forgetting can sometimes make us come across to others as thoughtless, tone-deaf, or worse.
For example, if most of your friends go on a vacation every year, you become used to talking about the planning for these trips. It is fun and gives you (and your usual circle of friends) joy. But if you talk about this in the same way with a cashier at the store… who works two part-time jobs… makes minimum wage… and struggles to make ends meet- you might give off a vibe you didn’t intend.
We have all heard the idea of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, but in practice, we often don’t even know what kinds of shoes other people wear. Sadly, we easily forget from the comfort of our own homes, that some people have no shoes at all. It is for this very reason that it is really important to widen our circle of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances because it really makes us aware that not everyone lives as we do. We desperately need this perspective of our own lives, our triumphs, and struggles. It helps make us more empathetic and better connects us to the human experience. Diverse friends enrich our lives.
So how do we widen our circle? This can be a challenge if you’re introverted or simply don’t have a whole lot of time to give beyond work and family, but there are steps to consider:
1–Volunteer in some capacity in a neighborhood or area of your city that isn’t your own. Find a service task that you’re interested in and volunteer where you can meet people who don’t live exactly where or how you live.
2–Read books about people and places VERY different from your own. This is, perhaps, the easiest and safest way to put yourself in others’ shoes. If you live in an urban area, read a book about someone who lives in a rural setting. Look at who you are and your life situation and select a book in which the characters are the opposite.
3–Go to a government-sponsored forum about a topic in your community. Maybe your newspaper or local library is sponsoring a free event. Attend so that you can learn about what is happening in your area beyond right where you live and work.
4–Find a meetup group that has an interest in something you’re passionate about or become involved in a professional organization that may give you an opportunity to meet others. This way you know that you and whomever you meet will have a shared hobby or professional life in common. There are so many awesome opportunities for this like book clubs or coffee clubs.
5–Invite someone you meet and feel safe with to your home for lunch, dinner, or a celebration. We have done this for several Thanksgivings, and we are always so glad we had the opportunity to meet people who were different from us. It truly made our meal richer. This kind of thing happens all the time. Remember the story about Wanda Dench who sent the accidental text message to Jamal Hinton? Wanda meant to send the text to her grandson, but the message accidentally went to Jamal. They have spent SEVEN Thanksgivings together and their story is in talks to be made into a movie. What a beautiful story it is. I am sure that Jamal and Wanda, now, cannot imagine their lives without one another. Invite people– when you can do so safely. These are the exact kind of connections that make our lives feel more fulfilled. When we reflect on our lives and our friendships, these are the experiences that will provide some of our most treasured memories.