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The Importance of Having Friends of Different Cultural Backgrounds

Content the importance of having friends of different cultural backgrounds

Many of us grow up in our own “little worlds” that are pretty homogeneous. We live in neighborhoods in which people tend to be of the same socio-economic backgrounds and cultures. Fortunately, this is beginning to change, and that is a good thing. In a world that is becoming increasingly smaller and in countries in which populations are becoming much more diverse, we can no longer ignore the need to understand other cultures. But is it important to have friends from different cultures?

Both the short and the long answers are yes.

The Difference Between Awareness and Friendship

Think for a minute about your friends. You have chosen these people because you enjoy each other’s company, you have things in common (often the same values, beliefs, and preferences), and you have formed a group of pretty like-minded individuals. These are the “family members” that you have chosen, not been given by birth.

You are pretty comfortable with your friends. You also have awareness that there is an entire world out there of people who do not share your background. You have read about them; some of them go to school with you; some of them work in the same place. You know their names; you greet one another. But you do not necessarily find a deep need to cultivate friendships with them.

When you limit yourself in this way, you lose. Developing friendships with those of different cultural heritages is an enriching and life-changing experience, not to mention the preparation it gives for navigating an increasingly smaller world.

Benefits of Friendships Among Different Cultural Groups in the World

Working with different cultures is not the same as friendships. Remember, friendships are intimate relationships in which you get insight into someone else’s inner self and you expose your inner self to that person as well. And here are all of the benefits that come from that mutual exposure.

  1. Promotion of Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism means more than the mere understanding and acceptance of different cultures. It means the promotion of them as well. You may not share a friend’s religion or race, but, once you have a friendship with such a person, you can then promote acceptance and understanding on the part of others. The larger impact of cross cultural communication through such promotion serves to allay fear and mis-understandings. In a world of so much fear and mis-understanding, this can only be a good thing.

  1. Experience and Knowledge Growth

Most of us cannot travel the world to immerse ourselves into other cultures. And immersion through reading or watching movies doesn’t do it either. But when we develop strong friendships with those of different cultures, and we spend time listening, we have such an immersion.

  1. We Develop Open-Mindedness and Flexibility

When we grow up in a “closed society,” we do become a bit closed-minded. We see our own cultural habits and mores as “right.” We do not necessarily see other cultures as bad, but we do not see them as equal to ours either. When we develop solid friendships with those of other cultures, our eyes are opened. We see that every culture, every religion, every society has values and principles that are actually quite similar to ours. We value family; we value kindness; we value morality; we protect our children and care for our elderly. We may not agree with all of the specifics, but these friendships cause us to look within our own culture and to see its flaws as well.

Years ago, Wayne Dyer, psychologist, philosopher, and author was speaking before a large group. A part of his lecture related to how people of all cultures are “told” throughout history who to hate. At the time, the biggest threat to America, as seen by our government, was Communist China, and we were supposed to hate them. He paused and asked the audience members to raise their hands if there was someone in China they hated. Not a hand was raised, of course. The point he went on to make was that we tend to hate and to fear whole peoples of a culture we do not know or understand. But if we could just get to know one or more individuals from a culture, and develop friendships, we make an individual move toward acceptance and tolerance. And so do they.

In an ever-increasing global society, is it important to have friends from different cultures? As was stated at the beginning of this article, the answer is overwhelmingly yes.