Where do you draw your circle? (Round 3)

Broaden the circle


Round 3. Round... like a circle... get it???
Alright, enough of that, here we go!

So, as previously discussed, I discovered that I draw circles, consciously or unconsciously, situation-by-situation.

So, that got me thinking...
Where do I draw my outermost circle?

What are the bounds of who's on my team? Who do I want to see happy? Who's worthy of my friendliness, neighborliness, kindness, compassion, care, camaraderie, etc.?

Not that I have to be everything to everyone in this circle, but I'm just curious of where my circle ends and my wall begins. The wall that separates "my people" from “other people.” The wall that establishes the classic “us vs them” mentality.

I used to accept that putting up walls was an unavoidable act, that our instinct for division was an inherent attribute, rooted in our tribal human nature. Excuse the French, but I now believe that settling for this justification is taureau.

I woke up to this false belief as I watched people in my life be kind to complete strangers (strangers who had nothing to offer them in return). I watched as their goodwill flowed freely to random people with whom they interacted. To be clear, I’m not friends with Mandela and Mother Teresa (unfortunately). So, these were just everyday folk.

As I watched their example, it got me thinking...
If they can do it, then why not me?
Do I have to accept division as part of my DNA?
Can I expand the bounds of my outermost circle?

One of these everyday inspirations was my late friend, Henry. Henry had an instinct for inclusivity. He would welcome everyone in, no matter who they were, no matter what their connection.

Henry and I met the first day of move-in freshman year of college. We lived on the same dorm hall. At our first hall meet-and-greet, I saw this tall kid walk in who was absolutely magnetic. He had also just moved in hours before but already, he had a handful of friends in tow, laughing at his rambunctious jokes.

Meanwhile, I didn't know anybody when I arrived on campus, so I was immensely insecure. This led me to be guarded, shy, and judgmental.

I even started judging the tall kid. Saying to myself, "Who does he think he is?" I began nit-picking whatever weirdness I could outwardly identify.

That soliloquy continued right up until he directed his attention toward me:
"Trent, right? You said you played basketball and football in high school? I did too. I'm sure we've got a lot in common. I'm gonna have some of the crew over to pregame tonight in my room. Come through."

In this first hour of knowing him, it became apparent that he drew his outermost circle far beyond where I drew mine... because he included me in his circle before we'd even met. And I'm so grateful he did, since that was the impetus for a life-changing friendship.

In the years that followed, I watched as Henry spoke to strangers like they were old friends. He hugged friends like they were family. His self-confidence catapulted him into the world with a unique attitude of openness.

I'd be lying if I said I was always onboard. Sometimes his approach made me uncomfortable and even a bit embarrassed. When he'd strike up a conversation with an unsuspecting stranger, part of me wanted to pull him aside and tell him that's not what you're "supposed to do," that it might "inconvenience" the other person, or make them "uncomfortable." But then, I'd watch the stranger light up and engage. They enjoyed the attention and opportunity for connection. That's when I realized that I was the one who needed an attitude adjustment.

Henry's attitude of expansiveness filled up his life. He had so many friends because he approached everyone as if they were already his friend.

He was magnetic. He had an ability to pull people in because he wasn't afraid to reach out.

He was inviting. With Henry, you'd never run into a wall. Instead, it was just a wide open runway.

In an attempt to carry on his legacy, I've tried to embody his ability to broaden the circle.

I just wrapped up a ski trip. I packed Henry’s approach in my boot bag and brought it out any time I was on the chairlift. This served as an experiment of sorts. Whenever I was sat next to a stranger, I pushed through my social anxiety to strike up a conversation, just as he used to. Something as simple as, “What a beautiful day, huh?” or “Love those sticks!”

As the imaginary walls between us eroded, the space for connection opened. We exchanged perspectives about lifestyle design. We had some casual chats about the beauty of the view. We traded tips on how to maximize stoke on the most epic of powder days.

I realized that these interactions didn't have to extend beyond the 5-minute chairlift ride. I wasn't tasked with skiing with my new compadre for the rest of the day. I didn't have to become best friends with them for the rest of my life. We simply got to share an enjoyable interaction when we were together, then we went on our merry way. It elevated the experience that was going to happen anyway.

To be clear, this experiment didn't have an 100% hit rate. Some people were in their own world and wanted to stay there. I respected their desire for alone time. I didn't assume that engaging with me was their top priority. (After all, many people escape to the mountains in search of solitude.) However, I didn't let this "rejection" discourage me from trying again the next time.

Overall, the ski lift experience got me thinking...
How many other opportunities like this am I missing?

What's stopping me from sharing a smile on the subway?
What’s stopping me from dapping up my doorman?
From gassing up the guy in the gym?
From making a friend on a flight?

I used to consistently put up walls to the world ("AirPods in, don't bug me") or stiff-arm strangers ("I don't know you, don't talk to me"). But why? How does keeping my outermost circle small serve me?

Yeah, it's not easy. Yeah, it's not natural. Sometimes my ~fluctuating~ self-confidence can erase my expansive circumference and cause me to retreat back to siloed safety. However, like all habits that have helped me grow, it takes a lil dose of courage to start and whole lotta persistence to continue.

I was the benefactor of Henry broadening his circle. Now that he's gone, I'm inspired to broaden mine.

Any why not, ya know? What’s stopping me from breaking through the imaginary walls and drawing an expansive circle?

I don’t have a great answer…

Do you know what’s stopping you?

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