Everyone I Know

You have absolutely no idea just how much of a bubble you live in.

People have very little idea of how homogenous their concentric circles of friends, family, and close acquaintances are. If the full spectrum of how different humans can be is represented by a football field, then the full range of your circle occupies about half a yard.

It’s a really, really easy thing to forget. By nature, you don’t interact much with the people you never interact with, right? So how would you know that your circle is so monotone?

You can rarely tell it about yourself. But if you know what to look for, you can see it in lots of other people. And then if you maintain a little logical consistency, you can infer that you’re probably not the one cultural polyglot in the whole world.

Here’s a clue to watch out for, something that I’ll prime you for: the phrase “everyone I know.”

Oh, what chuckles that phrase now solicits from me!

Whenever someone says “everyone I know,” they’re almost always trying to infer a universal fact from this particular demographic certainty. For instance, someone might say “Everyone I know loves avant-garde music,” and thus be implying that love of avant-garde music is universal. But of course it’s not – instead, the fact that you like weird tunes means you probably hang with a crowd that likes weird tunes and people with more mainstream musical tastes are tired of talking to you, so you’ve reduced “everyone you know” to only Thinking Plague fans.

This, in turn, creates some pretty major blind spots for you. It might be comforting to think that your opinions and values represent the Vast Majority and only a few crazed or vicious outliers disagree with you in any substantial way. Comforting – right up until you’re proven wrong in a sudden shock. Me, I prefer to have a good sense of how people will react and behave, and that means trusting that they won’t necessarily think like me.

Just remember, “everyone you know” is about a few hundred people at most. The world has seven billion. Your country might have a few hundred million. Heck, “everyone you know” probably isn’t even 10% of the people that live in your Zip code.

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