We spend a large portion of our lives with a number of people due to circumstances, rather than choice. Life starts this way. We don’t get to choose those assigned to nurture us, those kin who will contribute significantly to our initial ideas on how the world works. Whether we’re raised within a family, a tribe, or an orphanage, those around us during our formative can either inhibit or develop our sense of self-worth. Their actions act as a template for our moral framework. They can help us to understand that we are valuable and valued, or they can damage us beyond repair.
Once we leave home, many of us will spend eight around hours a day with a new mix of people in order to earn a living. Our workmates are likely to affect our day-to-day mood, the degree of satisfaction we derive from our jobs, and our desire to seek new opportunities and advance ourselves. They may also influence our diets, our political views and our prejudices. And we don’t usually get a say in the selection process for these people either.
So we spend a lot of our lives being influenced by an arbitrary assortment of people. How important is it then that we take care in selecting the rest of the people that we hang out with? I was at a wedding in the United Kingdom a few years ago, and I was asked to make an impromptu speech. I thought about the friends of the groom that I knew, some witty, most currently drunk, and all affectionate. I spoke of how a person might be judged by the qualities of their friends. Looking at those we choose to share our time with can help us understand a lot about ourselves. Do I like Karl because he’s the only person who will stay out drinking with me until 5:00am? Do I like spending time with Kelly and Janine because they are gorgeous, and when we’re seen together around town feel like I’m living in a music video? Or do I spend as much time as possible with Di, because she reminds me to be myself, and at times inspires me to be my best self?
A good friend’s father once told her that the worst place to meet a lad was in the pub, that she should instead hope to find a boyfriend in more positive environment. I can understand the logic behind this, though the population of the UK and Ireland might dwindle if it were to become a popular idea.
Meeting people through an activity which improves us, seems more likely to lead to positive relationships. Marathon clinics, Spanish classes, football teams, all these activities bring us into contact with people who want to improve, and who are happy to share the experience. Over the past year I’ve found my closest new companions through hosting travellers on my couch. We shared a joy for exploring new country’s and trying new activities, and we aren’t afraid to stay in a stranger’s home. They’ve accompanied me on sand castle building competitions, glacier climbs and surf lessons. They’ve been people who have actively encouraged me to live more enthusiastically, and I’m hopeful that at least a couple of them will become friends for life. And now I get to catch up with some of them in their homelands. I haven’t connected with every single one, but i know from experience that if I had met ten strangers in a pub, I wouldn’t end up rafting the Grand Canyon with any of them.
We shouldn’t underestimate the power that others have to transform us. I owe it to myself to find friendships with people who I admire, respect and am occasionally envious of. They’re more likely to motivate me through their actions and inspire me through their ideas. And if I am brave enough to be open and honest with them and they still want to spend time with me, then that’s an amazing and rewarding thing.