By Upendra Mishra
In the end, we become like the company we keep, the close friends we have, our family members and spouse or people we share most of our time with. We don’t even realize this, but they seep into our being slowly but surely.
The closer we are, the deeper the impact. “The force of a person’s believing seeps into those around him—into the very earth and air and water—until there is nothing else,” says Chitra Banerjee in the book The Palace of Illusions.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, a well-respected psychologist and the author of the book “Insecure in Love”, outlines four ways on how our friends shape our future.
“Friends are important – they give us a feeling of belonging, bring fun and laughter, lend an extra hand, offer emotional support, and give guidance when you need it. And, whether you realize it or not, their influence goes well beyond the moment. Your close friendships help to shape the course of your life,” says Becker-Phelps in one of her blogs on WebMd.
Here are her four ways friends shape your future:
- Friends affect the ways that you think and feel about yourself.
- Friends influence each other’s personal preferences and lifestyles.
- Friendships in the present influence the nature of your friendships in the future.
- A strong social network is associated with a healthier and longer life.
“Given the many different ways your friendships affect you, it’s important to be intentional when choosing friends. Does this person have qualities that you are looking for in a friend? How are they likely to influence you over the next one, five, or even ten years? And, is that where you want to be then? So, when you are making plans to get together with friends, consider whether those are the relationships – and that is the future – you want to build,” says Becker-Phelps.
Friends are important and they come for a reason in our lives, but still we must be careful in choosing them—or at least staying away from those whose value system we would not like to share. In 2013, I had tried to write a fictional story on friends. Here it is:
When 10-year old shy but smart and curious Sharad returned home after a bad day at school, he was in tears. He told his father: “Dad, all those kids ganged up on me. They picked on my clothes, my shabby hair and my peculiar accent.”
Father said: “Son, birds of same feather flock together. If you are good, you will make good friends. Do not worry.”
A few weeks passed by. Sharad was still being bullied by those obnoxious kids, but then one day, an unassuming kid approached Sharad, held his hand, wiped his tears and gave him a tight hug. Sharad was in all smiles when he returned home.
Father asked: “What happened, son?”
Son: “Dad, today, I met one of the nicest kids in my school.”
Father: “Remember, I told you birds of the same feather flock together.”
A few years passed by. Now-the-teenage Sharad returned home. He looked sad and miserable, and asked his father: “Dad, I met this kid today. He was so nice to me. He asked me to skip a class and have some fun. I like him a lot, but did not like his idea of skipping the class. Does that make me a good or a bad boy?”
Father said: “The company you keep says who you are.”
Years passed by. Sharad grew up to become successful businessman and a community leader. He helped his friends, his community and anyone who needed help. He was always ready to support if he could. There were always people willing to help Sharad, too. One day, one of those 10-year olds who had bullied him and punched him on his face, showed up on his door, and said: “Do you remember me from the fifth grade? I have really screwed up my entire life. Help me. Tell me what kind of person I have become.”
Sharad said politely: “Tell me what company you keep and I’ll tell you what you are.”
His friend slowly whispered: “Everyone has left me. I have no friends. I have no family. I am all alone.”
Sharad said: “My father used to say ‘birds of same feather flock together.’ Do not worry about a thing. You are now alone. Grow your new wings and decorate them with new feathers—colorful, friendly, helping, compassionate and caring. You will be surrounded by hundreds of birds with the color of your own feather very soon.”
But then Sharad warned: “I told you what my father had taught me, and that had worked great for me. But along the way, I also learned something on my own: ‘losers and destructive minds also gang up together and stay together until they destroy each other as it happened with you. When you grow your new wings and feathers, be mindful of this lesson, too.’”
A few months ago, I had mentioned the 21st century social thinker and psychologist Jordan Peterson (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Random House Canada, 2018) in one of my columns. He puts his advice on friends bluntly: “Make friends with people who want the best for you.” He says it is a good thing to choose people who are good for you.
Peterson adds: “It is appropriate and praiseworthy to associate with people whose lives would be improved if they saw your life improve. If you surround yourself with people who support your upward aim, they will not tolerate your cynicism and destructiveness. They will instead encourage you when you do good for yourself and others and punish you carefully when you do not.”
Peterson says that people who are not aiming up for you will do the opposite. “They will offer a former smoker a cigarette and former alcoholic a beer. They will become jealous when you succeed, or do something pristine. They will withdraw their presence or support, or actively punish you for it. They will over-ride your accomplishment with a past action, real or imaginary, of their own…But mostly they are dragging you because your new improvement cast their faults in an even dimmer light.”
(Mr. Mishra is managing partner of the Waltham, MA-based integrated inbound marketing and PR firm The Mishra Group. He writes about his three passions: marketing, scriptures and gardening.)