One of the friends that I am in touch with from childhood is Peniel Eya, a Cameroonian that I met when we were both about seven, growing up in a rural corner of the Philippines, about an hour from Manila. In the picture opposite, we respectively make up the back left and right. We were as close as early grade schoolers could get and shared a lot of experiences in school, sports and overall rabble rousing. As Peniel was one of my first close friends I remember being extra bummed when his family left the Philippines after a few years to go back to Cameroon. Friendship, even back then, was a huge deal to me.
I’ve made a lot of other close friends in the years since but I am really glad that Peniel and I are still in touch (and that he posts good pics on Facebook so I can illustrate my posts:)). Being able to look back at the 20+ years that we have been friends I like to reflect on how friends impact me. Peniel gave me insight into his Cameroonian/Francaphone culture and I learned a lot from this exposure. Other closest friends were Filipino, Korean, Ghanian and Singaporian. Although this kind of international exposure didn’t exactly solidify anything about my Swedish identity, I feel like it gave me a good start in becoming more of a world citizen.
Several months ago I wrote a post titled Choose Your Friends Carefully… Building Your International Think Tank. In it I made a case for having a strong accountability group of positive friends who push you towards becoming a better person. I want to develop on that. I really believe that, whether or not it is immediately obvious, we more often than not end up being the average of the handful of people that we hang around the most. I mean this in the broader sense of environment – both online and day-to-day in-person interaction. Because this is reality, it makes a lot of sense to be proactive about the kinds of friendships you create.
Choose Friends that are Different
Does your network bring out the best in you? Do your friends make you a generous world citizen? Do they exert positive peer pressure on you? Do they make you want to give of yourself more, to be more open-minded? I have often found that developing friendships with people from vastly different backgrounds from me can really help me grow. For example, moving up to to Northern California I was initially very nervous about the transition from ultra urban LA living and the accompanying lifestyle and political norms, to the exact opposite up north. For non-Californian CultureMutt readers, Northern and Southern California may as well be two different states. There is no love lost between the two parts of the state. “You’ll stick out like a sore thumb”, I was warned as I announced I was leaving LA for a little Norcal mountain town. And I did. But more than three years later I am really grateful for my friends up here that have helped me grow.
As we start another week, let’s pause and be grateful for the friendships we do have. Let’s also give some thought to how we can grow our circles to become more open-minded, better rounded and more generous.