One of the earliest lessons we learn in childhood is that we are judged by the company we keep. If our parent taught us this, she was probably concerned about how we would develop our ideals, morals, and ethics. Literature regarding this parental concern is more ancient than the Christian Bible.
It’s wise to reinforce values like this throughout our youth and adulthood. An aunt gave me a book of Aesop’s Fables when I was nine or ten years old. One of the short lessons Aesop wrote was “The Ass and His Purchaser”. Here is the complete story:
“A man wished to purchase an ass, and decided to give the animal a test before buying him. He took the ass home and put him in the field with his other asses.
The new ass strayed from the others to join the one that was the laziest and the biggest eater of them all.
Seeing this, the man led him back to his owner. When the owner asked how he could have tested the ass in such a short time, the man answered, ‘I didn’t even need to see how he worked. I knew he would be just like the one he chose to be his friend.'”
If a person wishes to be judged by others as good, you hang out with good people; if you’re careless, you might fall in with bad people. Of course we must be careful not to exclude people who are simply shy or are members of a group that is discriminated against.
Because a lot of people who read this blog identify as Christians, I’ll include this short Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 15:33 says “Do not be deceived, ‘bad company corrupts good morals.”
Whether or not we accept ancient literature as good guidance, there is plenty of anecdotal, subjective evidence that seems to prove that we are like the company we keep.
Time after time it has been proven that our personalities are strongly influenced by our environment and by different situations. Throughout our lives our nuclear family, extended family, friends, and colleagues are our behavioral models. This is one reason why it seems valid to be judged by the company we keep. Our closest associates and friends reflect who we really are, deep inside.
We can take note of popular sayings about this topic such as: “If you run with wolves you will learn how to howl, but if you associate with eagles you will learn how to soar to great heights.” and “Introduce me to your best friends and I will know who you are.” and “It is better to be alone than with the wrong company.” Honestly, don’t we use some of these sayings to judge celebrities, politicians, religious leaders, and others?
Just because some folks behave kindly towards us or seem to be interested in us doesn’t mean we should be quick to associate with them. It’s easy to forget this warning in the current age of social isolation and dehumanization.
We can well afford to take our time to observe people who are drawn to us or we to them. Over time, people can’t help but reveal who they really are. Some of them will be negative, and plenty of others will be people who will enhance our lives.
By the same measure, we need to be mindful that our relationships are two-way streets. Do we harm or do we help the people in our lives? How does what we say and do affect our partners, our families, our coworkers, and strangers we meet?
A childhood friend’s mother once reminded me to bring out the best in others by being the best I can be. I hope to be able to always follow that advice because that’s not always very easy to do.