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.