Scott H Young

Do You Need Friends That Think Like You?


Twins

Do your friends need to share your values, interests and philosophy of life?

I believe the answer is no.

As a self-described vegetarian, entrepreneur, speed-reading dance machine, do most of my friends match my eclectic interests and approach to life? Certainly not.

My current roommate is delightfully unambitious, guitar-playing skateboarder. To my constant surprise he seems uninformed on most current issues. Also, throughout our stay here in France he started, got addicted and quit smoking in a six week period.

Despite our differences, I consider him a great roommate and a good friend.

What Doesn’t Makes Great Friendships

Values and ways of thinking are often touted as the principle ingredients in a good relationship (platonic and otherwise). So, if I’m a vegetarian, anarchist or Star Trek fanatic, then I should seek out plant-eating, government-hating Trekkies.

My experience has taught me otherwise. I’ve met plenty of people that, on the surface, share my goals of self-improvement, learning or entrepreneurship, but found them unbearable in conversation. Despite all our similarities, we didn’t click.

At the same time, I’ve met people who have completely opposite viewpoints and we became great friends.

I now believe that, while values and philosophy may be important in a relationship, it’s pretty low on the list.

What Does Make Good Friendships?

In reviewing the bonds I’ve formed with people over my life, I think the most important pattern is not shared interests, but shared situations. When you share a mutual situation, struggle or challenging experience, that creates a bond far faster than any deeper values you hold or personality.

As an example, my best friend and I met in our first year of university. He had just come from India, and all all-boys boarding school. I came from a small town where I was shy and socially awkward.

We really bonded over figuring out socializing and dating.

It wasn’t that we had a lot in common. We have fairly different personalities and many of our approaches on life differ dramatically. But, being in the same situation and going through the same challenges, caused a comradery to form.

My experience with my current roommate is another perfect example. We became good friends in spite of having almost polar opposite personalities and viewpoints, because of our shared situation. We were both Canadians, figuring out how to live in France.

Shared situation, different personalities.

Do You Even Want Like-Minded Friends?

For most of my friendships, I would say having people who are too like-minded is a disadvantage. People who think like you can’t challenge you intellectually. They can’t offer you an alternative perspective on life and on key issues.

My best friend and I frequently get in disagreements over dating, as we have different cultural and philosophical attitudes about the process. But far from ruin our friendship, I think these disagreements help us both in refining our thinking. Being challenged on my ideas forces me to think them through.

Living with someone who is decidedly relaxed and easy going forces me to evaluate all my positions on ambition, stress and lifestyle choice. Even if I don’t convert to a bohemian way of life, I can still learn valuable lessons from the practice.

I think there is a tradeoff between comfort and growth. Like-minded friends have an easier time comforting you in moments of doubt, because they reinforce your current worldview. However, divergent friends force you to reevaluate and consider new options.

Networking Tip: Ignore Values, Focus on Mutual Challenges

If you want to build a network of close friends, I don’t think talking about your philosophical similarities is the best starting point. Sure, it can make for an interesting point of conversation, but it doesn’t make a bond.

Instead, I would try to find common challenges you share. Figure out what are the things both of you are facing, or have faced, and share that.

I’ve spoken and exchanged emails with Benny Lewis. I believe the connection was made, not because of personality, but because I’m learning my first foreign language (Benny speaks eight) and he’s just started a new blog (I’ve been writing mine for 4 years).

This is still a new hypothesis of mine on relationship forming. But in the future, I’m going to try to focus on finding currently shared challenges, rather than currently shared values when meeting new people.


Print Friendly
StumbleUpon It!

This website is supported, in part, by affiliate arrangements (usually Amazon). Affiliate relationships are always marked by bolded links.


13 Responses to “Do You Need Friends That Think Like You?”

  1. Thanks for the further link love! Although I think we’ve got plenty in common; I’m also a vegetarian trekky dance machine ;)
    I do agree that we can teach eachother plenty. Mutual exchanges and common interests are a great way to a great friendship!
    Great post, thanks mate!

  2. Toomas says:

    I share your view. Most of my best friends are completely opposite in worldview and interests. Personal growth and public speaking does NOT appeal to them ;) However, the people I’m reaching out to who DO share my interests, values, etc. have become a big inspiration for me. I believe I can learn just as much from them as I can from people with different wordviews. That might be because you’re always on a different level, it’s impossible to have EXACTLY the same values, interests, worldview…

    Great posting, keep it up

  3. Dave says:

    I think a healthy balance of both would be ideal. I have some friends who would be horrible influences on me if I let them influence me (admittedly I sometimes do), but I can guarantee there will be a story to tell every time I am with them. I have other friends who possess qualities I admire or values I share; nothing we do together is worth writing home about but I value the comfort I get knowing that other people share my views.
    But I would argue that people with similar views to yours would offer the most challenge to your life philosophies because no one truly has identical viewpoints. Also, when you discuss your beliefs with like-minded individuals you will be able to discuss your beliefs much more in depth. If I talk to some of my fun friends, then for the most part, my philosophies will go over their heads–not because they’re less intelligent, but because they don’t spend time thinking about such things. And since they cannot understand what I am trying to say, their responses are rarely insightful, let alone challenging.

  4. […] Do You Need Friends That Think Like You? « Scott H Young […]

  5. Maureen says:

    Dave’s comment has it covered, well written. I prefer a bit of both too but I appreciate Scott’s point and it’s one I can learn from: some people that are a lot different than ourselves can make great friends. Therefore, be open to meeting all types and, as Scott says, see what shared experiences you have.

  6. I think the line has to be drawn at people who just dislike you for no reason and people who dislike aspects of your personality. One can’t be changed and will drain your energy and the other will help you out.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Dave,

    I agree: a mix is important. In this article though, I wanted to emphasize that great relationships don’t *need* a common world-view.

    Richard,

    Why befriend people who don’t like you? Mutual respect is a must, regardless of value conflicts.

    -Scott

  8. Markus says:

    I agree with your post that it is not have similar goals and intrests that others have that counts, still I don’t totally agree with that it is the situation that is the most important either.

    I have a good friend that I met in the same situation a couple of years back. We still share similar situation from time to time and usually hang out mostly at these times but the difference between my relationship with him is never effortless in the same way that I’ve experienced with other people.

    When I think of the relationships that I have enjoyed the most there has always been a sharing of humour or something. Some sort of rapport that just is there. So it seems to me that it is more important if one fit with the temperament of the person rather than with the situation or goals, even if the older I get the easier it is to have good relationship with the people that I don’t click with.

    Markus

  9. Azalea says:

    I have been looking for words to describe my situation for some time. For some reason, the first article that I have read by you in a while seems to adequately surmise it. I feel that my current circle has grown a little stale, and have begun hanging out in different places looking to meet and cross paths with new people. Have to say that the bit on common challenges really nails the issue on the head. While a few core things, such as intelligence or say, health, would be definite comforts in choosing a circle, I feel that having the opportunity to go through things together can bring people closer in two months faster than two decades of stagnation can. It’s basically what I’m usually trying to say when I bring up the difference between army buddies and shopping buddies. Well played.

  10. ira says:

    Hmmm..
    I dont know what to say…
    haha
    But I have a lot of friends that love me.
    & I love them so

  11. Sid Ban says:

    When you make a generalization you lose the argument. Furthermore, when you talk about what people need you find yourself lost because people may need someone with similar attitudes and values to bolster up their own thoughts about issues and having someone with contradictory thoughts can be unstabilizing. Emotions do count in relationships! And, it is obvious we don’t need more religious beliefs and try to justify them by saying that it is very stimulatiing. We do not need to be too alert to realize the damage that religious thought has brought upon the people who live on this earth. So, let’s stop with the platitudes and as the professor in Back to the Future said, “Let’s get on with some serious shit.”

  12. seamus says:

    interesting article. The last paragraph really got me thinking.

    “… in the future, I’m going to try to focus on finding currently shared challenges, rather than currently shared values when meeting new people.”

    Surely this is what we all do already? When you meet someone new, it’s common to find out about their situation before their values. For example, conversation topics like occupation, family, place of origin….situation focused small talk! rather than say political-ethical-religious value focused deeper conversation

  13. Mila says:

    Thanks for the blog. Two things come to mind:

    1) I don’t need my friends to share my values or lifestyle, but I do need them to be people who at their core care about others and value human connections… that’s pretty much my only requirement. My oldest friend is ultra-conservative/religious and I’m very liberal/agnostic; however we acknowledge that we both want what is best for people, we just disagree on how to achieve that goal (because we differently define “what is best for people”).

    2) A pertinent NYTimes article from last week claims that challenging your thoughts and values actually helps develop neural connections in your brain: here’s a little quote and link:

    “…we need to … challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/education/edlife/03adult-t.html

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

Leave a Reply