We get stuck in many ruts throughout our lives. One of them is sticking to people and places with which we are most familiar. This is often a result of logistics, convenience, and habit; however, it may also indicate underlying biases or fears.
Labels are superfluously used to describe things that are both familiar and strange. For example, we distinguish between good and bad neighborhoods, poor and rich people, and brilliant and ignorant ideas. Each of these descriptors carries with it the weight of preconceived ideas which may or not be accurate. Either way, labels often serve as a hidden social code that limit what you can and can’t do or with whom you will or will not associate.
Because we are often bound to particular social circles or geographic areas, we have to be intentional about breaking down those boundaries. Travel to a neighborhood that you have considered off limits. Visit a library or public park to get a feel for the culture. How do you feel? What is the root of those feelings? Would you want others to feel that way on your turf? Do you feel that you are somehow superior or inferior to the people who live, work, and play there? And, most importantly, how can you use your influence as a leader to build relationships and change prejudicial attitudes and behaviors?
There are many other ways to exercise social flexibility. Here are a few ideas:
- Go to a religious service of a faith that is unfamiliar to you
- Visit a new restaurant and order a food you have never tried before
- Cultivate diverse friendships and bring people together
- Travel to a faraway destination that opens your eyes to the multiplicity of human folkways
- Take a friend with you so that you can learn together
Be intentional in creating new parameters to frame your understanding of the world. Take calculated risks to expand your social repertoire. Before you jump into a pool, you can anticipate the results by looking through the clear water to the bottom and testing the temperature with your toe. Yet, the exhilaration of the water engulfing your body is always somewhat of a pleasant surprise. You can expect similar results when you expand your social and environmental horizon.
What frightens you? Bungee jumping? Holding a snake? Calling that man/woman of your dreams? Go for it! What have you got to lose but your fear and inhibitions?
Building a portfolio of diverse life experiences will make you a more flexible and adventurous leader. You’ll also be much more amusing at cocktail parties.