December 22, 2019
“We are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time.” At least that’s what Jim Rohn, a well-known motivational speaker, thinks. And I agree.
Who and what we surround ourselves with will play a huge role in the degree of our happiness. Let’s make sure we’re hanging out with people who are smarter, wiser and know more than we do. Folks who know more than we do make us smarter.
There’s probably someone in your neighborhood who’s an expert on taking care of a plugged-up toilet. My next-door-neighbor knows everything under the sun about The Tao. My siblings are spread all over the country, but I can tap into their wisdom whenever I want with the ease of a phone call. My older sister knows how to self-publish a book. The younger one—a massage therapist familiar with every muscle in the body—can help you figure out what’s wrong when you’re hurting, and what you might do to alleviate your discomfort. My brother can tell you about every Marvel movie and TV show ever made and can make a compelling argument for why you should watch them in order.
We need to bring people into our lives who know more than we do. If we don’t, that void will be filled by people who know what we know, think what we think, and are more than happy to commiserate with us about anything and everything. Sure, at times we all enjoy a little fawning attention or blind loyalty. But fawning attention and blind loyalty get us the same tomorrow that we had today.
And it’s not just people we need to consider. We need to expose ourselves to media that not only entertains or informs but also uplifts us and moves us to decisive action. We’re in trouble when we allow ourselves to swim in the negative news of the day, immobilized and impotent, drowning in discontent rather than taking action to make things better. Lots of likes on our Facebook or Twitter rants doesn’t mean we have helpful support or a network that is making a positive difference in the world. Likes suggest we’re attracting and reinforcing more of what brought us down in the first place.
We’re in trouble when we consume media that masquerades as entertainment but promotes violence and bigotry and brings us down to the lowest common denominator.
We’re in trouble when we game all day, deluding ourselves that we’re developing real-world relationships, but we don’t leave the house unless we need groceries.
When my son was nine or ten and wanted to watch an adult movie with lots of violence and sex, he calmly explained to me that he understood it wasn’t real, it was just TV, so it was okay for him to watch. I calmly explained back that, yes, a part of his mind realized that it wasn’t real, but that other parts of his mind didn’t. And that, combined with the assault on his emotions, could make him desensitized to the point where dangerous sex and unnecessary violence would start to seem reasonable. I won on that one, but barely. He had prepared his arguments well.
Victor Frankl, a brilliant psychiatrist and author, was imprisoned in Auschwitz during World War II. In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he detailed his imprisonment and the impact it had on his psyche. With repetitive exposure, his initial repulsion at seeing other prisoners tortured or killed morphed into resigned acceptance and the ability to return to his soup without a second thought. We can become desensitized to appalling or unimaginable behaviors and experiences if we’re exposed enough.
We have access to every form of media. One way to tell if we’re exposing ourselves to what we need is as simple as asking ourselves how we are feeling. If we’re angry or depressed or feeling empty, those feelings are giving us valuable information. And it is not that the world sucks. Although it does, at times, suck. Uncomfortable feelings tell us that we need to find support, or information, or reassurance, from someone or something that isn’t in the hole with us.
We need a wide range of positive and nurturing people and resources in our lives. If we establish that kind of base, we can capitalize on the wealth of positive, wise, growth-producing information available to us at the other end of a phone call, over coffee, or at the push of a button.
Research has shown that on any given day, we recycle the same thoughts over and over, many of them self-critical, negative, and self-defeating. In an article entitled Change Your Thoughts, Change Your World, Jennifer Read Hawthorne posits, “We humans, it seems, have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. But as many as 98 percent of them are exactly the same as we had the day before. Even more significant, 80 percent of our thoughts are negative.”
The solution is twofold. Break the self-defeating and immobilizing habits of repetitive thinking by inputting new information every day and filtering the input judiciously. Pay exquisite attention to what you accept, and challenge what doesn’t ring true. Secondly, expand your worldview and your capabilities by surrounding yourself with people who are smarter, wiser, and know more than you do.
We can’t know what we don’t know before we know it. But what we don’t know, somebody else does.