“Tell me with whom you consort and I will tell you who you are; if I know how you spend your time, then I know what might become of you. “
The company one keeps is a critical determinant of the person that one is becoming. Those with whom one associates with change both the outward behavior as well as create an inner transformation though it may be in the most subtle of ways at first.
As summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:33,
“… Bad company ruins good morals.” (ESV)
The moral of the story, the truth pointed out by these proverbs appears to simply stress the importance of the manner in which one selects their friends. Yet the lesson of the importance of the company that one keeps extends far beyond how one selects their friends. Indeed, for most, though friends play an important role in social life, they are often not the people with whom one spends the predominance of their time. Instead, co-workers, collaborators, clients, and family members often make up the elite groups that dominates one’s waking hours.
When one is selecting a job, the environment in which one works should be a key consideration as, in all likelihood, one will find themselves elevating or degenerating to the level of one’s coworkers. As noble as one’s intentions may be, the amount of time and subtle pressure within the environment will definitely change any individual given enough time.
As the saying goes, “You can choose your friends, but not your family.” Unlike jobs or even good friends, family is not something that can be selected, exchanged, or rapidly altered. However family has a critical influence upon who one is and who one is becoming. Taking rather trivial examples, everyone in the family unit is affected when one member of the family smokes as the smoke permeates both the air as well as clothes and furniture even when careful precautions are taken. Secondhand smoke is hard to avoid. Less obvious, the amount that one eats is influenced by those around them. Eat with those who tend to overeat and that become normative and one will find themselves overeating as well. However the news is as good as it is bad. Healthy habits are social as well. Eating well, exercising, and avoiding excessive alcohol intake are all affected by the environment in which one finds themselves.
This leads to the responsibility aspect. Perhaps the moral corollary of Newton’s Third Law of Motion (for every force there is an equal and opposite reaction), is that as one finds themselves changed by the company in which they find themselves, they are, at the same time changing the company which they keep. Not only must one use great care in selecting the company which one keeps, but one must also be careful to observe what type of company they themselves are becoming. Are they becoming someone who elevates others to their level? Are they bringing energy, enthusiasm, yet also calm and thoughtfulness to every situation. Do they notice their good habits being adapted by those around them? The concept of rising together is critical. As social creatures, everyone in the group is affected by the actions of every other individual in the group. Thus, beyond simply the individual improvement, is the group as a whole rising, becoming better, or is there a slow slide toward mediocrity and complacency.
The decision about the company which one keeps is not limited to looking at others at one point in time before one determines whether or not to be involved with a certain group of people. Rather, the decision is both introspective- requiring examination of oneself, dynamic- requiring constant vigilance and reassessment, and collective- requiring monitoring of not only the individuals but also the movement and trajectory of the collective group.
Keeping good company requires being good company.