Many moons ago, a friend and I appeared in the local paper as part of a human-interest story—what can I say other than we grew up in a small town? The reporter asked my friend how I’d changed since we met and grew close, piquing my curiosity. My friend rather uncomfortably expressed that I’d opened up more, which gave me mixed feelings. I couldn’t disagree, of course, but my stubborn streak made me wince a little, as I didn’t know if I liked somebody else taking credit for that. In all fairness, though, the question merited such a response.
In the years since then, I’ve grown to appreciate how true the comment was and that it isn’t a shameful thing to admit someone has rubbed off on you, especially in a positive way. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, I’ve drawn on my observations of my friend and several others to try to be a good influence when it was my turn.
The experience taught me how powerful influence is. Regardless of your status in life or how independent you are, you’re prone to be influenced—for good or bad. It’s the “influencenza,” if you will, and there’s no way of steering clear of it. It strikes in every season and is around every corner.
Jokes aside, being influenced doesn’t mean you’re weak-minded or deficient in something; it simply means you’re human. Even if we’re shy and introverted, we need interaction to some degree, and whether we realize it or not, we often crave influence along with that. Influence contributes to the most basic aspects of life, with us processing language and various skills based on what we see our parents doing.
As elementary as it sounds, we sometimes overlook the impact influence has on us. While we can benefit from the influence of others, the wrong kind of influence can lead to our downfall. The concept of peer pressure seems so juvenile, as our teachers harp on it a lot in middle school, but in truth, we never outgrow it. Sure, experience helps us avoid certain harmful practices, but we can adopt even seemingly subtle traits that could trip us up. No matter how old we are, we won’t elude the power of influence.
Not only can this force impel us for good or bad, we also have to consider what kind of influence we’re putting out to others. Like with everything else, we can get into the habit of taking something good but not giving something good in return. We might not even realize it, but we could leave a conversation feeling encouraged, while our companion walks away miserable. To keep ourselves in check, we might reflect on how others have influenced us in a beneficial way and strive to exert that to others, even if we do things a bit differently.
Influence is like the wind, in that it’s invisible but its effects are not. We have to acknowledge its existence and take appropriate measures to live with it. If we realize it’s a cold, gusty wind that’s going to kick up storms in us, we ought to put on extra layers so it won’t affect us as much when we encounter it, or we might avoid it altogether. If it’s one of those warm breezes that’s going to gently glide our sails, however, we can bask in it and allow it to carry us in the right direction.