Celebrating diversity in groups
Great friendship groups are often made up of diverse personalities and identities where each person brings something special to the group.
Diverse backgrounds, interests and experiences enrich our friendship groups. Developing bonds with others from different genders, races, cultures, sexualities, belief systems and life experiences vastly improves our ability to empathise and be respectful of the views and needs of others.
Friendship groups that include members with diverse interests, motivations and abilities can also help reduce prejudice against others who may be different to what we are familiar with.
Benefits of having a diverse group of friends
The less diversity there is in a group, the increased likelihood the group will be insular and avoid allowing other people to join the group or interact with it.
This exclusionary behaviour can often lead to competition with other groups to gain a higher level of social status or power within the broader community.
Cliques in particular are often closed groups that lack diversity. Cliques can be made up of members that consider themselves to be similar to each other in a key way:
- family backgrounds e.g. wealthy
- level of attractiveness e.g. the ‘pretty girls’
- level of sporting achievements.
Cliques will often adopt behaviours and mannerisms that highlight their members’ shared attribute, for example, there might be a dress code or some outward visual signal of their group.
Groups with greater diversity tend to be more welcoming of new members and have greater contact and interactions with other groups in their community.
Diverse friendship groups open up opportunities to experience things that may not have been possible. For example, being a member of a group with people from other cultures may allow you to experience cultural celebrations and religious practices such as name days or Christmas, that you wouldn’t experience in your own culture.
This welcoming behaviour builds strength and diversity within the group. Individual members then have increased opportunity to develop friendships with people from a more diverse and varied social network
Roles within groups
We often play very different roles in the groups we belong to. Knowing what role/s we play in the group and what our responsibilities are helps us feel a deeper sense of belonging and can strengthen our connection to the group as a whole, and to individual members.
For example, some roles within groups could include:
- Leader: someone who influences other people in the group.
- Follower: someone who is influenced by the group leader.
- Negotiator: someone who tries to reduce conflict and maintain harmony within the group.
- Organiser: someone who initiates social activities and get-togethers for the group.
- Nurturer: someone who is always concerned for the welfare of the individual members of the group.
- Entertainer: someone who is responsible for keeping the group entertained and enjoying their time together, e.g. the joke teller, the performer.
This is certainly not a complete list of the roles people can take on within a group—you can probably think of a few others.
Whenever you are a member of a group you have an opportunity to play one (or more) roles within the group. By doing this you can have a positive influence on the way the group operates and interacts.
How to respect diversity when forming new friendships
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ well the same goes when you meet new people.
When we meet someone new, we tend to make assumptions about who they might be based on our previous experience and knowledge of people we think might be similar.
Assumptions can be helpful, but they don’t take into account the person. They don’t consider an individual’s unique background and experience.
If you make a judgement about a person on your first impressions – how they look, what they are wearing, their gender, race, or religious background – you could be missing a great opportunity to get to know a new friend.
What we can see about someone is only small part of what there is to know about a person. We can’t see their inner world—their thoughts, feelings, memories, beliefs, values and desires. Friendship allows us to share our inner worlds with each other.
Forming friendships with people who share different experiences or beliefs from you can be an amazing opportunity to learn new things, experience new activities and share stories and conversations.
We are fortunate to live in a richly diverse society. Our community is made up of people with ancestry from all parts of the world, with all different sorts of life experiences. The freedom to develop friendships with others that are different in some way—whether it’s gender, culture, religion, where they grew up, personal ambitions—is one of the main benefits of living in a multicultural society like ours.