It is, I think, a reasonable corollary of symbolic interactionism, that you are only as smart as the people around you. Some of that smart rubs off, and even if it doesn’t you see yourself, and become yourself, through their eyes. As a strategy, therefore, it’s a good idea to surround yourself with smart people.
The same goes, I think, for character, beauty, and many other attributes. It’s not just a matter of homophily, the idea that we seek out the familiar. No, we become like those around us, to some extent, so like smiling when you are not really happy, it makes sense to socialize with with your role models, whenever possible.
But I had the opportunity to have a conversation with someone this week that brought me to a realization of something that should be sensible to anyone really: people will think you are strange if they are not significantly outside of the norm themselves. There are some real advantages to being a radical among conservatives, being an agent of change, even in a small way. Some people make a living out of being the strangest person in the room–it is built into their identity that they are “different,” and so they do the unexpected even when it is not the best course of action. It’s difficult, sometimes, to tell the difference between those who are different just to get people’s attention, and those who want to get people’s attention to make them different.
And so, it’s nice to surround yourself with people who are strange, but probably not people who are strange like you. The latter is called a cult. The former celebrates the idea that normal is boring, and that strangeness comes in a lot of different flavors. Am I excited to talk to someone who is very different from me in background and culture? I won’t lie: I’m not particularly adept at talking to people no matter how similar they are to me. But I embrace the margins, because when you hang out with the strange, they are likely to see you as pretty normal.