The importance of exposing ourselves to diversity

Scarlett Goldberg

In the Horace Mann community, friend groups are often made up of individuals of the same gender, race, and socioeconomic class. Despite how diverse the school is, not many of us capitalize on the multitude of different perspectives available to us. The majority of people are confined to friend groups made up of individuals who identify similarly to them. Furthermore, beyond superficial similarities, friend groups often have similar political views, home locations, interests, and religions in addition to other identifiers. We stunt our personal growth by lacking connections with people different than us. Our restricted perspectives are rarely challenged, and as a result, we limit our ability to empathize with others who are different.
One’s unconscious is quickly able to sort individuals into groups, including by race, gender, or class, without requiring conscious awareness. To our ancestors in the wild, this behavior was advantageous as one could identify others belonging to the same group who were less likely to threaten their safety. Someone who does not believe they seek similarity in others is most likely unaware of the unconscious behaviors that drive societal divisions. It is important to be mindful that our brains can process information unconsciously. I am often unaware of how similarity-attraction dictates my social interactions and I require self-reflection or another’s perspective to identify instances where I acted with bias.
Befriending individuals who are similar minimizes conflict. Agreement on values, beliefs, and even favorite foods leads to increased harmony. One is more likely to strike up a relationship with someone who is superficially similar to them. In my experience at our school, people often use practicality to justify forming relationships with very similar people. This response is simply a defense mechanism so individuals do not have to confront their unconscious, and sometimes conscious, biases against other races, genders, and socioeconomic classes.
People regularly seek confirmation and validation from others around them, especially when they cannot give it to themselves or receive it from important figures in their lives. By surrounding oneself with people of the same political opinions, one is made to feel that their perspective on the world is rational. It would be challenging to have one’s entire sense of reality disagreed with. It is possible the reaffirmation many seek from individuals similar to them could be provided by people different from them if there was less hostility between people of contrasting personalities. By creating an open and respectful school environment, people will be more open to engage in conversation with others who are different.
In the U.S., seeking confirmation is most evident in the polarized two-party system, in which people with similar political opinions often consolidate and shield themselves from opposing ideas, reaffirming each other’s opinions on social media, in the news, or in person. Consistent reaffirmation leads to “reference group effect,” which is when people perceive strong similarities between members of the same group and experience an intensely negative reaction towards people who are perceived as different. We need to expose ourselves to each other’s perspectives, fostering respect and empathy, to create cooperative solutions for our country.
I believe it is extremely important to bridge the polarization of news sources and the divisions within our society. If institutions, or friend groups, shut out opposite opinions, people will lack the growth and development gained by exposure to someone different than them. People do not need to change their beliefs, but if more productive and empathetic conversations between opposing sides would happen in our society, compromises would be more easily met. It is extremely uncommon to see individuals of opposite mindsets have patience and tolerance for each other, especially in our political climate.
Anyone who surrounds themselves only with their own opinions will lack the expansion of their worldview. Repeated reaffirmation will stunt one’s ability to connect with individuals of completely different identities. It is crucial to reflect on one’s behavior in and out of the school community, and who each of us seek to form relationships with. Once we become more aware of how we behave, we can make a conscious effort to breach our comfort zones, reach out to others who we would never have spoken to before, and learn something new about our community, city, country, or world.