“Put a rose in a sack of fish and soon the rose will start to stink too. Be careful of the company you keep.” – His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje.
Are your friends really your friends? Are they supporting and enhancing your life or are they teaching you to think and behave in darker ways that you never thought you would? The company you keep is so important. They will change you in more ways than you know.
I have been wanting to write about this topic for a long time as it is something that affects each and every one of us. And, it is something that becomes more obvious the older I get. I really hope all of you reading this will leave a comment and tell me your thoughts on this matter as I would love to know what you think.
Why your friends are important
We all know that friends are important in our lives. They keep you company when you are bored and they love you when you are sick or sad. But this isn’t what I am talking about. I am talking about the fact that your friends are (other than your parents) the most influential people in your life. You spend hours upon hours with these people and after a while you start to mimic their behavior. Your friends change you.
Take a look at the quote at the start of this article. It is a very important quote to understand. If you go off to a mountain retreat and live with monks and yogis you will find that your behavior and outlook will naturally start to become very peaceful. If you go to Wall Street and hang out with cocaine sniffing wealthy executives you will find that you naturally become more greedy and competitive. The people you hang out with change who you are. Because, as humans, we take in information from the world around us and, more importantly, we try to fit in to that world around us.
Your friends are important. They play a big role in how you see and interact with the world. Your future is largely dependent on their influence. So, are your friends really friends?
Signs your friends aren’t really friends
Now I want to go over a few signs that might indicate that your friends aren’t really your friends. I hope you will read over them and let me know if you can think of any others.
1. You have to be someone else around them
If you feel like you have to be someone other than your normal self around your friends then chances are they aren’t your real friends. We all know this feeling. You go out with these people but you feel like you need to dress or talk differently in order to fit in.
These people aren’t your friends. These people are tools you are using to try and be more popular. And this type of pursuit won’t get you anywhere at all. Next time you meet up with a “friend” take a look at your own mind and behavior and see if you are falling into this trap.
2. You gossip more
Gossip is a terrible thing. It hurts other people and it makes you feel bad about yourself in the long run. One sure sign that your friends aren’t really your friends is when you find that you gossip more around them.
In the new movie Doubt with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep there is a wonderful scene where the local Priest (played by Hoffman) gives a stirring sermon about gossip. The wonderful acting by Hoffman made this an extremely moving section of the movie – so powerful that I wanted to share it with you. Here is the transcript:
A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this – that night she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing.
‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?’
‘Yes!’ Father O’Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly broughtup female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!’
So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness.
‘Not so fast!’ says O’Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!’
So the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed.
‘Did you gut the pillow with the knife?’ he says.
‘And what was the result?’
‘Feathers,’ she said.
‘Feathers?’ he repeated.
‘Feathers everywhere, Father!’
‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’
‘And that,’ said Father O’Rourke, ‘is GOSSIP!’
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Gossip is, unfortunately, the product of many bad friendships. Often times we meet with people and, after running out of things to talk about, we start talking about the mistakes that other people have made. If you’re friends are making you gossip more it might be time to switch company.
3. You’re moving further away from your goals
Everyone has goals that they want to achieve. Some people want to buy a nice big house, other people want to travel and some of us want a good career. Whatever your goal in life is it should be supported by your friends. They should help you get closer and closer to this goal.
I went to school with some really motivated people. They knew what they wanted to do in life (doctor, lawyer, accountant, etc.) and they knew how they were going to do it. But around senior year a lot of these friends met with bad company that lead them astray. They started drinking a lot, taking drugs and skipping school. By the time exams came around they were so far behind that there was no chance they were going to get into the college degree of their choice.
This is a really sad example of how bad friends can change your future. The very act of hanging around with the wrong people can cause you to lose track and lose your way. If your friends are taking you further away from your goals then you really need to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if they are the best thing for you.
4. You don’t notice any positive qualities growing
One thing that you will find happens quite naturally when you hang out with good friends is that your positive qualities will grow and flourish. If you find that no new positive qualities are developing and, in fact, you are developing some negative traits then it is time to be worried.
As an example I have an old yogi friend who has spent many years in meditation retreats. Whenever I hang out with this guy I find myself becoming more loving and patient and relaxed. On the other hand, I have some friends who leave me feeling more anxious, agitated and angry at the world. There is a big difference.
Friends should bring out the best in you. They should help you to reach new heights, not bring you down to their problems. Take a look at how you feel during and after meeting your acquaintances and see what is going on with you.
But I can’t just give up on my friends!
With all this talk about leaving bad friends and finding better company you are probably having the natural reaction of not wanting to give up on your friends. Good. That is normal. It shows you have a heart. The task is to discover inside your own mind whether or not this is the best solution. And it is something that only you can ascertain.
For example, if you can stay friends with a bad influence because you feel like their example doesn’t rub off on you and, in fact, you are benefiting the person by being their friend then by all means you should stay their friend. But, on the other hand, if you are finding that this person is bringing you down and you really aren’t getting anything from the relationship then you might need to make the tough decision to see them less often.
Only you can decide what is the best thing to do. You know your own mind and behavior better than anyone else so if you can see changes going on for the worse you need to take action. Nobody else can take it for you.
The company you keep is important. They influence you for both the better and the worse. Take a look at your five closest friends and see if they are good for you. Because those five people are your biggest influences. You will surely begin to emulate them in one way or another.
Please leave a comment if you have anything to add on this subject. I would be really interested to hear your advice, thoughts and experiences with bad friends.