A friend of mine once had jury duty and did not know a soul. When it came time to choose her seat, she did what most of us do.
She scanned the faces of potential jurors, saw a woman who reminded her of herself, and sat down by her.
Clearly there is nothing wrong with this. Very often when we’re instinctively drawn to people, there ends up being a chemistry or natural rapport that makes for easy conversation.
But when we never branch out, when we always stay in our comfort zone by sticking with people we know or gravitating to the people who best resemble us, we miss opportunities to grow. We miss out on conversations and connections that can enlighten us, inspire us, and expand our social network.
And that is why my message for kids going back to school this month is OPEN UP. Open up your eyes. Open up your heart. Open up your mind.
Last spring I spoke to 6th grade girls from 4 elementary schools that merge in junior high. One thing I tried to emphasize was the importance of looking past the surface to get to know people.
Sharing this picture of Simone Biles and Shaquille O’Neal that went viral on Twitter, I asked the girls to imagine them as normal people, not celebrities, who saw each other at a party. What might their initial reaction be? What might they assume given their polar-opposite appearances?
hey shaq 👋🏾 pic.twitter.com/YCrSufiyk7
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) February 5, 2017
Simone, at 4’9” tall and 104 pounds, could easily look at Shaquille and think: That guy is humongous. It’s hurts my neck to look up that high. I have nothing in common in him.
Shaquille, at 7’1” tall and 325 pounds, could easily assume: That girl is a shrimp. She probably still rides in a car seat. I have nothing in common in her.
The truth, however, is they are alike in a big way. They’re both phenomenal athletes. They both possess the drive to reach the top of their games. On the surface these things aren’t obvious, but in their hearts they share a passion that could lead to hours of conversation and a great friendship.
What probably got them teased in school – their unusual sizes compared to peers – later led to a competitive advantage. With time it would be obvious how their physiques played into their callings, that Simone’s body would enable her tumbling while Shaquille’s would allow him to dominate the game of basketball.
In short, what made them different made them great. The same holds true for everyone. We’re all unique for a reason, designed to live authentically and not identically. No two lives are supposed to look the same. No two people are meant to stay on perfectly parallel tracks.
As adults we know this, yet we can be guilty as anyone of clinging to what’s familiar, making decisions based on what our friends do, and only surrounding ourselves with people whose lives mirror ours.