Diversify Your Friendship Portfolio

In in­vest­ing, a com­mon piece of ad­vice recom­mends a di­ver­sified port­fo­lio—in other words, hav­ing in­vest­ments from a wide range of ar­eas to avoid a crash in one area wiping out all your in­vest­ments. Similarly, I have found that it can be benefi­cial to have a di­ver­sified friend­ship port­fo­lio—in other words, friends across a wide range of com­mu­ni­ties or so­cial cir­cles.

For in­stance, I have a group of friends that I’ve known mostly since el­e­men­tary/​mid­dle school, a group of friends that I know from the ra­tio­nal­ist and EA com­mu­nity in Berkeley, a group of friends that I know from play­ing cer­tain games com­pet­i­tively… there is some over­lap be­tween these groups, but by and large they are sep­a­rate, and this can be quite valuable.

Be­cause I’m ac­tive in mul­ti­ple cir­cles, if strange things are hap­pen­ing in one com­mu­nity I can step into an­other. If I need ad­vice on a sen­si­tive situ­a­tion, I have peo­ple who know me well and aren’t close to the mat­ter to draw upon. Fur­ther, hav­ing these sorts of re­sources and per­spec­tives available can open up op­tions that might oth­er­wise be difficult—if, for in­stance, I de­cided I could no longer be a part of one of those com­mu­ni­ties, leav­ing wouldn’t be the end of my so­cial life.

I some­times see peo­ple—in the ra­tio­nal­ist com­mu­nity or el­se­where—putting “all their eggs in one bas­ket” when it comes to friend­ship, and I think that can of­ten lead to pit­falls. If all your friends are from work, what hap­pens if you leave your job? If all your friends are from a cer­tain hobby, what hap­pens if you get bored of it? If all your friends are from a cer­tain so­cial scene, what hap­pens if there’s a bunch of drama and that com­mu­nity splits? Hav­ing other so­cial con­nec­tions and com­mu­ni­ties to in­ter­act with can re­ally help with such sce­nar­ios.

Lastly, I want to point out that hav­ing a range of friend groups can be a use­ful in­su­la­tor against bad ideas. [1] Some­times strange and un­wel­come fads can spread across a com­mu­nity, and if that’s the case it can sud­denly be­come a less ap­peal­ing place. If you have sev­eral friend groups to choose from, such things are much eas­ier to “ride out” than if your whole so­cial cir­cle is sud­denly into what­ever new weird thing. Fur­ther, be­ing able to run new stuff by peo­ple you know in other com­mu­ni­ties can serve as a good check on group­think—be­ing able to say “hey, a bunch of my friends in Berkeley are get­ting into X, does that make much sense to you?” can be quite a use­ful re­al­ity check!

[1] One caveat to this—if you no­tice that cer­tain friends or com­mu­ni­ties con­stantly seem to drag you in bad di­rec­tions, it might well be time to move away from them!