Cultivate a colorful, eclectic circle of friends

Jan 4, 2008 at 8:23 p.m. ET

In this day and age, with the planet on shaky ground, with racism running rampant, with fears of terrorism threatening everyone's safety and security, with ecological and spiritual challenges on everyone's list of concerns, with our peace of mind being held for ransom, it's not enough to be neutral, it's not enough to not have the intention of being mean. Being nice in the world means you must have the intention and the consistent focus to be nice, and that requires study, application, practice, and other people.

Look at your circle of friends. Do they represent a healthy cross section of people or are they all exactly alike, with the same interests, beliefs, lifestyles, and closed minds? Life is meant to be colorful, diverse, and dramatic. A sunset is filled with drama. A rainbow boasts a wide variety of colors. Leaves on a tree are as different as anything could be. Then why should your circle of friends be drama-less or color-less?

To maximize your nice factor, seek out friends and acquaintances who bring variety, perspective, and insight to your world. Open yourself up to friends of every gender, age, social scale, color, religion, heritage, sexual orientation, interest, belief system, and lifestyle. Here are some helpful hints:

Be a good ambassador
We live in a colorful, diversified world. Because there are cultures, countries, traditions, and languages that are foreign to us, our ignorance can get in the way of presenting ourselves as nice, sensitive individuals.

Take time to educate yourself, so as not to be offensive by using the wrong terminology in referring to different races or ethnic groups. You might live in a tiny neighborhood, but you're a member of a world community--and our world is looking for some really good ambassadors. Be sensitive by using politically correct terms.

Be nice to service people
Some people seem to have the attitude that some individuals were born to serve, and others were born to be served. It's been my experience that those who've worked in a service capacity--in the hotel, restaurant, retail, or travel industries--tend to have compassion and generosity for those who might be serving them. I often notice that my hairdresser friends are the biggest tippers in restaurants.

This could just be a realization issue. Perhaps prior to reading this, you were living out of ignorance and weren't conscious of the bad habit of not acknowledging people in the service business. Well, now that you know, it's time to go overboard and make up for all the times you ignored all those wonderful, amazing, humble, talented individuals who've made your life easier through their service. From now on, you can go out of your way to stop and say hello to the hotel cleaning person, the flight attendant, the restaurant table busser, the hotel clerk, the garbage collector, the gardener...Who have I left out here, and who have you left out over the years?

Be nice to the elderly
I've grown to love and appreciate elderly people. If I chose to, I could recognize and dwell on their negative, crotchety character traits--traits that, by the way, also exist in young people. However, I find elderly people to be cute, funny, wise, and grateful, and they possess the best manners. That's what I choose to see, and so my experience with the elderly is always filled with joy and respect.

Okay, so old people might move slower and drive slower. So do you and I, on occasion. In order to show my love and respect for the elderly, and so that I can harness my rude, impatient self when I'm stuck behind a slow-moving senior, here's what I do. I pretend that the slow-driving old lady in front of me is my own mother or grandmother. I would never lose patience with or honk at my own mother or grandmother, and I certainly wouldn't want total strangers to lose their patience and honk at them, either.

Just remember that the universe has eyes. Your own self-love and confidence are undeniably tied to what you put out there. Honking at an old lady to get her out of your way may help you arrive at your destination five minutes sooner, but the devastation you inflict on that old lady will set you back in ways you can't even comprehend.

Bottom line here is that by cultivating an eclectic group of friends and choosing to be nice and respectful to all types of people, not only will you expose yourself to fascinating cultures, you'll also liberate yourself from some of the negative beliefs that can accompany stereotypes and expand your own personal happiness.