Careful the Company You Keep
When my second cousin was about 3, her mother would scare her into sticking close by by shouting, “Bad people! Bad people!” whenever she’d wander off too far.
Admittedly, the quality of parenting represented by this statement is questionable. Still, I have to admit that, beyond just being frickin’ hilarious, it got the job done; little M always returned to her mother’s side when she heard this.
I hope M will someday know — in less scary ways, of course — how important it is to choose the company you keep wisely, for this is a lesson everybody is truly well served by. Without going into too much detail about the specifics of why this topic is on my mind to protect the parties involved, I was reminded once again recently of the power that the company one keeps can truly wield over a person.
I remember very distinctly the turning point in my relationship with the two people I’m thinking of specifically while writing this blog. One I never liked; we’ll call this person X. Sometimes you just meet people and know right away there’s just going to be a clash. It’s nobody’s fault; your personalities and values may just be too different, and perhaps you sense or experience a lack of respect for what you believe or represent. When that happens and you know your path and this person’s will cross again, pretty much the best you can do is hope for civility — which you may or may not give or receive.
The other — let’s call this person Y — well, that person’s just young. I always felt the — there’s no great way to say this — immaturity of Y’s mentality (exacerbated by the fact that Y always claimed to be very mature for Y’s age). And given how immature I am, that doesn’t speak too highly for Y. Still, I rarely begrudged Y for that mentality because I guess I felt I’d sort of been there, done that, and at one point, I genuinely hoped to help Y avoid some of the burning buildings I saw Y rushing toward.
One October, my relationship with both X and Y took a turn for the worst. It seemed as if Y felt torn, like Anakin Skywalker, between the Jedi and the Dark Side. You can decide which category you’d like me to represent in this equation, but long story short, Y felt — for some reason that will likely never be known to me — that Y had to choose between me and X, and the choice Y made was X.
Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, yes, but mostly just confused by the whole thing — and the lack of explanation accompanying it. Good thing I had a brain cell or two left (at least at the time) to figure it out for myself.
But here’s the thing: Once I got past the inconsideration of the whole episode and the fact that, in this particular situation, it would not have behooved any of the parties involved to have a conversation about the incident that might’ve cleared the air, I started thinking about the effects Y’s choice would have on Y’s life. Now, I’m not Y’s keeper, and it’s not my responsibility, but still, Y is young, and I suspected that one day — maybe not right away, but at some point down the road — this decision would cost Y something very valuable that Y may not even realize is valuable to Y…yet.
And so it seems it has happened.
I don’t think Y realizes it on a conscious level at this point, but all the negativity, gossiping, and general Debbie-Downering Y has been doing with X ever since I exited the scene (I was the one who always put the kibosh on that shiz) has led Y to make a major life decision that I suspect — based on the waterworks, anxiety, etc., that accompanied the announcement of the major life decision — Y already subconsciously regrets. I believe, with all the conspiring and, again, just straight-up negative jibber-jabber that X and Y were doing, Y lost sight of what really matters to Y as an individual, not just someone who needs to feel like part of the “cool” (if by “cool,” one of course means “alienating others with different views in order to bond”) crowd. Y made a decision not for Y’s own legitimate reasons, but because Y got sucked into the Vortex of Stupid. And I fear Y is going to be finding out very soon — the hard way — just what the price of that is.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not blaming X for Y’s life decisions. No matter how naive or immature Y may be, Y must still be accountable for Y’s choices. And Y will undoubtedly learn much from this experience — but what a price to pay — if I’m right about it. Not that I hope I’m right about it. In fact, I hope things somehow do work out for Y. It’s just hard for me to see how that’s going to happen, given what details I know of the circumstance.
Anyway, it reminds me of this insightful tidbit from a longer piece that is generally attributed to Colin Powell but for which other origins have been claimed: “The simple but true fact of life is that you become like those with whom you closely associate — for the good and the bad. … 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.”
I myself had to learn the hard way just how costly surrounding myself with the wolves could be. The wrong company leeches into your system like poison; don’t drink that Kool-Aid, man!
In the immortal words of Rushmore, “With friends like (that), who needs friends?”
This brings me to the following poem, which to me represents the natural conclusion to my own trials and tribulations with the wrong crowd: Sometimes it’s best to just be on your own, even if you’re lonely; to wait for worthy company that can help you soar manifest itself in your life instead of settling for less.
“Samurai Song” by Robert Pinsky
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.
When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.
When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.
When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.
When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.
When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.
Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.