I first heard this little phrase while working at Lehigh several years ago. I oversaw the communications team and we were writing a little blurb on some alumni travel program and the writer wrote that alums going on this, what was it, boat tour of the Danube, would enjoy themselves because they be among “like minded individuals.” My first reaction was, “Huh?”
I couldn’t quite figure it out. I mean, why would I want to go on some boat cruise with all these people who thought just like me? What would we talk about for, goodness sake, if we all thought about the same things in the same way?
But I was new to the job and was getting acclimated to the whole higher education culture and so I figured, “Hey, Zoe, let it go.” Maybe it just meant that you would be among people who also liked to be in a boat. Or be in Europe. Or be away from home. But it still seemed an odd thing to say, because obviously, anyone taking this trip would want to be in a boat, in Europe, away from home or else they wouldn’t go!
But since then, I’ve heard it a few more times. And, interestingly, each time I’ve heard it, I’ve been at a university. That’s right. I haven’t heard it in the boardroom. I haven’t heard it while selling investments (“Hey, this large cap growth strategy is perfect for like minded individuals.” (Which arguably makes more sense.) Or, “Our portfolio managers are all like minded.” (Which would probably be an awful thing.)
No, I’ve heard how wonderful it is to be among “like minded individuals” only at institutions of higher education – and, at some of the most prestigious institutions out there.
This weekend I traveled to West Philadelphia and attended Penn’s alumni reunion planning leadership conference. This is an event where gung ho alums come together and plan for next May’s reunion weekend. It will be my 30th and I figured, why not get involved? I’m nearby and I’m always up for a party.
And sure enough, while encouraging us to host “pre-reunion parties” at our homes, the speakers talked about engaging with “like minded individuals.”
I’m sorry, but why is that good?? Shouldn’t I want to be with people who don’t think just like me? Who challenge me? Who offer diverse perspectives and question the status quo? Isn’t that the whole point of diverse institutions that make you think critically?
Isn’t that what Amy Gutmann was talking about when she quipped that it was our responsibility to “put knowledge to work for the betterment of humankind?” She didn’t say, “Hey, make sure you hang out with people who think just like you and agree with your world view,” did she? No! She said to pursue audacious goals and make a difference.
So, I’m wondering now if what these people mean by cruising or cocktailing with “like minded individuals” is that, given you’ve all gone to the same college, you probably will find yourself among people with the same educational level or intellect. You know, “like-minded” in the sense of IQs. Literally, your minds look alike under a brain scan!
That’s it! Come hang out with people who are just as smart if not smarter than you!
Well, for me, I’m thinking I’d like to have a pre-reunion party in which no one is allowed to agree on anything. Not a rude party, per se. But the rules of the dialogue are that you have to question everyone’s assumptions, conclusions, and even the path they took to get there. Some actual knowledge might even been imparted at this “I’m smarter than you” little soiree. I wonder if the planning committee will go for it?