The silent superpower.
Social Fluidity is the superpower you have never heard of.
Like all superpowers it has some pretty feisty kryptonite to contend with.
Here's a list....
Kryptonite 1.0: Understanding what social fluidity is.
How many people know of or have heard of social fluidity? Instinctively people recognise it, but it is rarely spoken of. The concept makes sense at an intuitive level, but it can get messy when we try and articulate it. The main reason for this is the confusion between being socially fluid and socially mobile. They are not the same thing. There are overlaps, but there are definitive differences:
The key difference between socially mobile and socially fluid people lies at the heart of their ambition. If you are an ambitious socially mobile person you want to be better than what you are. Typically, you strive to improve your stars, to better your status, and/or improve your wealth. Socially fluid people have a separate set of ambitions - to experience life, in all its glorious diversity, irrespective of wealth or status.
Socially fluid people, care about who you are... not what you have or what you can give them. They have a desire to be included and work extremely hard to include everyone around them. In all they do, they seek out and celebrate diversity, embracing all life.
Socially fluid people are some of the most open-minded people that you will meet.
Kryptonite 2.0: Social Fluidity can get confused with tourism.
Socially fluid people are inclined to travel to broaden their horizons, but they are not to be confused with the voyeuristic, misappropriating, archetypal "Tourist". When they travel, they are less motivated by the type of hotel, its facilities, how much luggage they can take or what the entertainment will be like. They do not travel to collect souvenirs. In actuality much of that list can be the absolute antithesis of what they want to achieve from their journey. They want to be with you, learn from you, be amongst you... NOT watch and judge, then take home a T-shirt.
Social fluidity is all about human connection. It is about breaking down barriers and building bridges. It is about finding common ground. It is about growing an understanding of everyone around you and never sitting in judgement. It is a celebration of difference and an understanding of circumstance.
Can you see the next level of kryptonite surfacing here? Yep....
Kryptonite 3.0: People like the world to fit into boxes and socially fluid people...well....don't.
Organising, labelling, boxing people into groups helps people make sense of the world. In turn, when they feel they have a handle on the order of things, boxes lined up and labelled, they find a sense of security from a sense of place. In a human's hierarchy of needs, whichever academic model you choose as reference, security and safety come first and foremost. Making sense of the world by organising it into neat boxes can be a cornerstone in a person's perception of security. Socially fluid people, unfortunately, do not fit into boxes. Their behaviour can be oxymoronic as they can appear to both fit in everywhere and nowhere. This can make people nervous, especially if their place in the world relies heavily on a sense of fit.
This insecurity has a psychological name: Cognitive Dissonance
Here is an example of how cognitive dissonance can limit the fluidity of the aspirational socially fluid person...
Once, many years ago now, I was leading a meeting for around thirty Managers. Everyone was suited and booted and taking the meeting seriously. Around the mid-point I kicked off my shoes and continued to lead the meeting barefoot. For me this was sensible behaviour, I was making myself more comfortable... simple. Yes? Apparently not. Years later...literally years.... the delegates from that meeting were still talking about the meeting where I kicked my shoes off and walked around barefoot.
The act of making myself more comfortable it seemed...was not what they expected from a serious business lead. My actions were outside of their preconceived box.
There I was, confident and good at my job, but whilst I was going about conducting business, I was disregarding the conventions associated with my position - like wearing shoes during a meeting with serious business content. A classic case of creating cognitive dissonance.
There were many water cooler conversations about that event. Today it seems crazy that people were so shocked by the action, people wear jeans to corporate offices now... and trainers. Going barefoot would be a natural and obvious thing to do... comfort helps us think better... but at the time.... the following mindset evolved from my action:
1. She doesn't take the job seriously. If she did, she wouldn't behave like that.
2. She is belittling the role. To behave in such a cavalier manner does not foster credibility.
3. She is belittling what we do here. We run a serious business, we need to dress and act accordingly.
4. I don't trust her to take things seriously.
All because I took my shoes off in a meeting.
This leads to the question that I have often asked myself- as an aspirational socially fluid person: Why don't I just adjust my behaviour and simply fit into the box I am in when I am in it? Life would be a lot easier - Right?
Kryptonite 4.0: Socially fluid people have to ALWAYS be authentic.
Socially fluid people are not "Talented Mr Ripleys". The last thing they want to do is go around tricking people to fit in. They are not transient creatures that explore a lifestyle then up sticks and move onto the next, cutting and burning who they are and where they have been on the way to manufacture a new person and a new way of being in the next town. That would not be fluid. It would be unsustainable and living a lie.
The most socially fluid people are 100% authentic ALL the time.
What? How can that be? Nobody can fit in everywhere.
Can you feel that cognitive dissonance itch?
On the surface authenticity and fluidity are mutually exclusive entities. Until you realise that common concepts of "authenticity" are just boxes to fit people into.
Socially fluid people know in their core that if you start to change who you are with different people you will very quickly come unstuck. Fakery is the quickest way to get people to turn on you, human beings can sniff it out like bloodhounds at a drug bust, and that is the opposite of what a socially fluid person wants. Whatever you do and wherever you are, a socially fluid person must be themselves and, whilst being true to themselves, work out how to fit into all the circles in which they wish to mix.
Social Fluidity is an Art - a Skill - and like all skills - mastery takes a lot of work... and a lot of sacrifice.
Kryptonite 5.0: Socially fluid people spend a lot of time in "No Man's Land" in the battle of Loyalty v Integrity.
The following phrase is a core principle in the socially fluid person's daily life:
"There is no I in team - true.
There is an I in integrity."
As much as the socially fluid can fit in everywhere, they spend a lot of time in nowhere spaces, in the middle of argument battlefields being shot at from every side.
I have lost count of how many times I have sat in no man's land, grenades landing all around me, as people I love and respect throw bombs at each other. Seeing each side of an argument, because you have walked some distance in their shoes, enters you into dangerous territory. Holding on to your socially fluid authenticity at such times and in such places - takes A LOT of energy and self-esteem.
Kryptonite 6.0: People with power and influence have the biggest boxes to protect... and they have some unbelievably elaborate strategies.
An obvious one of course, but the lengths people in power go to to protect their boxes from social "foreigners" can be unbelievably complicated and contrived. From how you hold your knife and fork at dinner to the words you choose to communicate with. Getting small, innocuous stuff wrong can mean that those who live in some of the biggest boxes instantly pull in their drawbridges and baton down the hatches because they can tell you are not one of them... and they are essentially, frightened.
However, the battle is not a lost one, even if you don't know all the elaborate social markers that people in the big boxes use to protect themselves... there are always ways in for socially fluid people.
When you understand that people can feel attacked by what does not fit into their sense of the world (regardless of how powerful they are or what their position in life is) you develop ways to disarm their defences without having to send in wrecking balls and full armoured artillery.
Kryptonite 7.0: There is no glory in being socially fluid.
The ways of the socially fluid are not glamorous, there is no lighting touch paper and watching the world burn, there is no great battle cry....and no great Hollywood moment.
In fact, there is zero glory.
NOT burning bridges and choosing to forge connection instead attracts zero attention.
Here is an example:
I was at a charity event having dinner with Lord and Lady Awfullyimportant.
"What is wrong with them? The youth have lost the correct use of the English language!" said Lady Awfullyimportant.
"Precisely. Young people go about butchering words these days. It is disrespectful." says Lord Awfullyimportant.
The word or phrase that had been mis-used, in their opinion and world view, was "Train Station."
I know - completely inconsequential right? Not to these two it wasn't. It was a signal of an invasion... a direct attack on their security and sensibility.
So, I could have laughed, said a whole host of derisory stuff - but I didn't. Instead, I chose a different path and said "I love the term Railway Station. I miss it. Train station just doesn't conjure the right imagery, does it?"
"Exactly." Unanimous Awfullyimportant head nodding.
And, I was from that point, IN. I had the capability to talk with them even though I did not agree with them. The bridge was built on our shared love of words. Although from different worlds, we connected, and we went on to discuss the origins and evolution of the English language and where in Europe it had come from. Lord Awfullyimportant, a history buff, loved the insights, promising to read the Bill Bryson book I recommended. We then extended our conversation to talk about the evolutionary landscape of the youth of today, breaking down the fortress one brick at a time, helping them, enabling them, reassuring them.
As it turned out the Awfullyimportants went on to become Awfullyinfluentials and brought about a whole lot of good in the world.
Kryptonite 8.0: You have to spend time with people you don't agree with.
This is essential and can be deeply uncomfortable. Life is easier when we live with people who we are similar to, people with whom we share the same values, norms, and ways of life. It is how we build community; it is how we survive in the world.
It is also... how boxes are built.
Socially fluid people like to be around people who think differently and challenge their ideas and beliefs. It helps them root cause division and find ways to unite. Celebrating diversity and difference to socially fluid people IS the pathway to inclusivity.
BUT.... it is challenging to live like this. It would be far easier to stay with your pride, your tribe, your people.
Kryptonite 9.0: Social Fluidity is a Privilege.
I noted this right at the beginning because this is important.
I am a white, raised in a middle-class family, well educated person with family connections that range from the upper societal echelons to the factory floor.
I was born with the opportunity to be fluid.
Many people are not.
Like every skill set, practice makes perfect. From being a baby, I mixed with all sorts of people. It gave me wings. Had I been in a third world country fighting for survival... well the truth is clear... my reach would be altogether less extensive.
Kryptonite 10.0: Socially fluid people struggle with imposter syndrome
I want to scream at myself all the time "Get back in your box!!!"
I make so many mistakes in trying to help... the road to hell really can be paved with good intentions.
Why do I have to make life harder than it needs to be? Nobody cares. Nobody wants me. It is impossible to be everything to everyone, the net result - essentially you are nothing to nobody.
You may have the makings of a superpower, but you are no superhero.
Get over yourself and fit in.
Then I think of a world where there are no people willing to leave their nested little boxes, raise their heads up and try to build bridges and I remember why social fluidity is important. Why it is a superpower. Why it is worth the sacrifice and worth the abuse. I think of the long-term gains of moving people together a little bit at a time and I hope that I can help and inspire as many people as possible to embrace a more fluid lifestyle.
Kryptonite 11.0: A list with 11 points on it is irritating.
Awareness and empathy are critical skills in the life of the socially fluid. If I had left this list at ten that would have felt good for many people... oddities and incompleteness irritate. Stop at point ten. It makes people more comfortable. You know this, and I know this. Awareness and empathy are the pathways to understanding and oh my goodness they are difficult skills to master.