Why I Don’t Hang Out With ”Like-Minded People”

What I’m about to say may sound like a generalization, and it probably is. But, like most generalizations, it contains an underpinning of truth that is difficult to look in the eye and painful to admit.

Young people these days are, on average, arrogant and naive.

Arrogant, because they believe they know everything about everything and that nobody has anything to teach them.

They believe they have been put on this earth to right the environmental wrongs perpetuated by the previous generations, so they drink out of metal straws and travel just enough to escape the monotony of life, not too much that their environmental footprint might become a source of embarrassment. They forget that a)you can perfectly drink out of a cup without a straw and b)it’s going to take a lot more than reducing air travel to fight climate change.

They are the first generation to have been raised on the internet, on which they spend an average of 5.9 hours a day. As a result, they are the most hyperconnected generation to have ever lived. However, the frequency with which they travel and the degree to which they are hyperconnected hasn’t made them more aware of the sufferings and joys of people from other races, socioeconomic levels, and life situations, as they seem unwilling or unable to put themselves in the shoes of other people. When they do support the more progressive narratives on gender, race, or environmental issues, they do so because it is cool to do so, not because they have considered an issue deeply enough to form an opinion on it.

They read, not books, magazines, or newspapers, but blog posts, Instagram feeds, and tweets. As a result, they are the most overinformed generation to have ever walked the Earth. However, the information they read is often biased or out of context, so this rarely translates into knowledge, almost never into wisdom.

As for the women, they consider themselves better than their mothers and grandmothers because, unlike them, they have a career and, unlike them, they will postpone having children as much as possible, or never have them at all. This is the empowering thing to do. They are unaware that the feminist narrative that pushes women to prioritize their careers over their desire for children is profoundly antifeministic (more on this another day), and that even die-hard feminists often admit that having kids is the best thing they ever did.

As for the men, they believe that in order to be loved and admired by others they must be softer and more feminine, so they do their best to suppress their masculine traits, such as leadership, strength, and the capacity to make bold decisions. They seem completely unaware that the world needs powerful men just as much as it needs powerful women, that power and the abuse of power are not the same thing, and that real women are looking for men who are not just soft, but also protective, reliable, and self-confident.

They are also famously allergic to feedback and walk away when they are confronted with opinions that differ from their own. In order to avoid the possibility of being wrong, they surround themselves with ”like-minded people”, people who look like them, act like them, and repeat their own opinions back at them. Because of this, they live in a grandiosity bubble of their own creation, one that is as difficult to penetrate as it is dangerous.

But they are also profoundly naive. Their maps of the world are so incomplete that they are bound to fall flat on their faces sooner than later. Research shows that open-mindedness is much more important to happiness, success, and innovation than knowledge or even IQ. On an individual level, the price of close-mindedness is failure: in our marriages, our families, our careers. On a collective level, being closed-minded in a fast-moving world means we will never acquire the necessary knowledge to have a positive impact on society. If there is one thing we need these days, it’s young people willing to make an impact on society.

Even though my words may sound harsh, I say this without judgment. After all, in many ways, I have been this person myself.

When I was in my mid 20’s, I thought I knew everything about everything and couldn’t be bothered listening to other people’s opinions about the things that mattered to me.

Then my life fell apart in a matter of months.

First, a long-term relationship with a man I was planning to one day marry and have children with fell apart. I guess I was wrong about Mr. Right.

Later that year, barely three years into my professional career, I had a burnout. Burnout made me face the fact that I had never wanted to become a dentist after all, and that I wanted out. I guess I was wrong about health, career, and success.

If that wouldn’t be enough, some of my closest relationships couldn’t or wouldn’t support my decision to switch careers. Like I once had, they believed that happiness at work was a privilege reserved for just a few, so they suggested that I live to fight another day. In one of the most crucial moments of my life, I felt utterly alone. I guess I was wrong about love, loyalty, and relationships.

Eventually, I found my way into an exciting new career and an amazing relationship with a man whose name I had barely registered before I knew he was the one. However, this didn’t happen by accident or magic. It happened because I dared to leave behind beliefs that I had once found comforting, but which were stunting my growth and development.

Some of those beliefs went like this:

-Romantic love doesn’t exist. You are to find a good man and settle.

-Career success is a linear path. You are to choose one line of work and stick to it for the rest of your life.

-Adult friendship is a myth. From your 20’s onwards, it’s all a competition: who has the better house, the most most successful relationship, the best paid job?

If only reading these beliefs makes you feel exhausted, don’t be too quick to judge. All of us have limiting beliefs that prevent us from reaching our outmost potential. What we call ”life” is the process by which we challenge, shed and eventually replace these beliefs with truer, more expansive ones. Magic happens when we allow the unknown into our hearts and minds and are forever transformed by it.

For this reason, I’m increasingly irritated by the concept of ”like-minded people”. We hear it all the time: We need more like-minded people in this office!; I want to surround my kids with like-minded parents; I want more like-minded friends. However, if the nature of life is growth and change, shouldn’t we rather surround ourselves with different-minded people?

Apparently, we don’t think so.

Social scientist Adam Grant has conducted extensive research on the nature of our beliefs and the power of regularly challenging and updating these when new information becomes available. In his book ”Think Again”, he states that when confronted with new ideas, particularly around contentious issues such as abortion and climate change, we have a tendency to hold on to our opinions more tightly, not less. However, this is a dangerous strategy, both individually and collectively.

However, this is a dangerous strategy. For the entire history of humanity, we have relied on collective wisdom to make decisions that were important for our survival. Research shows that we make better judgments and therefore better decisions as a group, not individually. When we are unable to see the value in other people’s opinions, we become unable to identify and correct our own blindspots, thus exposing ourselves to unnecessary levels of risk, both individually and collectively.

Individually, our reluctance to accept facts that challenge our views on reality can disrupt our biographies in powerful ways. Take, for instance, the long-term couple who, despite the obvious fact that they no longer love each other, chooses to get married (because what else should they do?), then their marriage falls apart; the man who dismisses his failing health to stay in a successful job that he despises, only to have a burnout; the woman who, despite knowing that she’s getting older, post-pones having children until her career has taken off, then faces fertility issues. 

Collectively, the risks we face are dire. For the entire history of humanity, we have relied on collective wisdom to make decisions that were important for our survival. While it is true that, on occasion, visionary individuals can predict occurrences that nobody else could had foreseen (take Michael Burry, who predicted the 2008 stock market crash), these cases are rare. Research shows that, in general, groups make better predictions than individuals. When we are unable to see the value in other people’s opinions, we become unable to identify and correct blindspots in our thinking, thus exposing ourselves to unnecessary risk.

Societally, our incapacity to communicate and compromise plays out in the endless debates around contentious topics such as abortion, race, environmental issues, and COVID-19. Instead of listening to each other and finding a common truth which could lead to constructive solutions, the more emotionally charged the topic, the more tightly we hold on to our views. We do so because we attach too much value to our opinions. Instead of seeing them as just that, opinions, we see them as our identity. Therefore, changing our minds about anything that matters to us might mean losing ourselves in the process.

As comfortable as it is to hold on to our self-righteous views, we can no longer afford to do so. As a group, we have perhaps never had more important issues to solve than right now. The climate crisis seriously threatens all life as we know it; the gap between the rich and the poor has become unsustainable; war in Ukraine has challenged our sense of safety in Europe. Our inability to compromise our views on these important issues is allowing them to escalate beyond manageable proportions.

I wonder what would happen if, instead of doubling down on our views, we would instead make an intellectual and emotional effort to see the value in other people’s views.

What would happen if pro-life and pro-choice activists would sit together in a room and honestly discuss women’s rights? Would it be possible to agree that yes, all human life is valuable but yes, women should be able to decide when and with whom they have children? Two seemingly contradictory things can be true at the same time.

If vegans and meat-eaters would sit together in a room, would they perhaps agree on a way to eat that is ethical, sustainable, and healthy for the human body? After all, factory farming is tantamount to a crime, but there is evidence that the human brain and gut evolved thanks to the consumpt

If COVID-19 vaxers and anti-vaxers would sit together in a room and honestly listen to each other, would they perhaps find effective ways to both manage the aftermath of COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics?

I sincerely believe that they could. Which makes me wonder, what is getting in the way?

Apparently, our inability to listen to each other is based on the simplest of all human emotions: fear.

Fear that, if we compromise our views, we might lose ourselves in the process. Who would I be If I would eat differently, or admitted that, just maybe, my views on COVID-19 were wrong? We attach so much value to our ideas that we forget that they are just that: ideas; transitory concepts that, at best are biased and inaccurate and; at worst, are mental cages that prevent us from living our lives to the fullest.

We also fear that, if we change our minds about things that are important to us, we might lose the love and support of those we care for the most. Will my parents / my friends / my boss get mad if I change careers, get vaccinated, or admit that I don’t agree with their views on climate change? Human beings are born with an instinctual need to belong, to feel protected and cared for by a tribe.

However, surrounding yourself with like-minded people is, precisely for that reason, a short-term strategy. Why? Because like-minded people will love you to bits, then abandon you the moment you change your mind.

On a social scale, the phenomenon of ”canceling” is a perfect example of this: people who were once beloved members of their community (the vegan community, the transgender community, or the political left, to name a few), only to be ostracized the moment they said or did anything controversial. Belonging with a like-minded group isn’t true belonging; it’s a trap.

That’s why, these days, I no longer surround myself with like-minded people. Neither do I intentionally seek to surround myself with different-minded people; these are all around me if I just open my eyes and ears. Instead, I surround myself with what I like to call ”like-valued” people.

Unlike ideas, values are born with us and will die with us. Examples of values are courage, beauty, creativity, loyalty, spirituality, and humility. And because values are immutable, relationships based on them tend to be more long-lasting and fulfilling.

Two of my deepest values are courage and creativity. Therefore, I love to spend time with people who courageously create things that have never existed before in the world. I don’t care whether they are creating companies, sculptures, or children. I don’t care either what they eat, whether they vaccinate their kids or not, and on what side of the political spectrum they lay. If you are a creative person you are my person. If you are a courageous person you are my person.

If beauty is a value that you hold, you might be happier surrounding yourself with people who embrace it, even when this is considered superficial by society. If you embrace solidarity, you might enjoy the company of people doing altruistic work, whether that is working for a non-profit, helping an elderly neighbor, or raising a special needs child.

If you are wondering what is the value that keeps families together, it is love. Families don’t fall apart because they disagree on politics, social issues or the individual decisions of different family members. They fall apart because the value of love hasn’t been cultivated enough to keep the family together through its differences and difficulties.

Surrounding yourself with like-valued people requires self-knowledge. After all, you need to know what your values actually are. It also requires the courage to live out those values authentically. Then and only then will ”like-valued” people recognize you for who you are.

Being with like-valued people means that I am held, yet I am free; I am loved for who I am, not for what I do, think, or will become. I will never be alone because I belong for simply being myself. As it turns out, the ultimate prize for open-mindedness isn’t only freedom; it’s true belonging. And that is something like-minded people will never be able to provide.