Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Circles of Personal Influence

The following comes from an email subscription I receive from "Better Conversations" written by Loren Ekroth.

Your old friends may be killing you. That is, killing your spirit, your creativity, your dreams. When I lived in Hawaii I learned a Japanese proverb that said "The nail that stands up highest gets pounded down." This is similar to the "crabs in the bucket" teaching story, remember? When one crab tries to climb out of the pail, other crabs pull him back down.
We Become Like Our Closest Associates
Business philosopher and seminar leader Jim Rohn puts it this way: "We become the combined average of the five people we associate with most." Check this statement against your own life experience. Most likely the five people you spend most time with reflect your interests, values, politics, quality of conversation, habits, and financial situation. After all, "birds of a feather DO flock together," do they not? One solid conclusion from years of research on group behavior is that deviation is punished. First the group tries to persuade a deviant to the right way of thinking (the group's way) and, failing that, excludes or even shuns the person holding contrary beliefs or acting differently. So it is that if you spend most of your time with the same people, chances are you'll think like them and act like them – if only to stay in their good graces.
Time for a Change?
Now, do you really like spending time with these same people? Do you admire them? Do you emulate them? Do they challenge your thinking, help build your self-esteem, inspire you to new visions of possibility? Or, as happens frequently, are you with them purely out familiarity and convenience, of habit and inertia? Do these people contribute to your life, or do they keep you stuck in old thinking?
Our Polarized Society
One of the reasons our society has polarized is that many people band together only with others of like mind. They reinforce each other in their clubs and churches and workplaces and resist and reject alternative points of view. Without diverse contacts, they remain ignorant of the experience of those of different backgrounds. My view is that isolating or privatizing oneself injures the society at large and the processes of genuine democracy. (For a deep exploration of this issue, see Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).

The Rewards of Diversity
In my life, one of the richest experiences was spending two years as a draftee in the U.S. Army. There I was mixed in with young men from every region of the country and many different backgrounds. Draftees included blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, and Eastern European political refugees. Among my fellow soldiers were two lawyers educated in elite universities, a gold miner from Alaska, some sharecroppers from the South, a small-time gangster from Boston, and three accountants from Hawaii. Propinquity in the barracks forced us to talk and work together and help one another. For me, I found great value in spending two years in the salad bowl of diversity, and that experience informed and influenced my future life decisions for the better.
Some First Steps
You do not have to create a whole new set of associates to find alternative points of view. You could locate a
Conversation Cafe or a Socrates Cafe in your community, or you could start one with instructions from these websites. As well, you could create a master mind support group of 5-6 people to help you with your endeavors. You can find detailed information on master mind groups in Jack Canfield's recent book, The Success Princples.

Loren Ekroth © 2005 Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life. His articles and programs strengthen critical communication skills for business and professional people. Contact at Loren@conversation-matters.com Check resources and archived articles at www.conversation-matters.com


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