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Posts Tagged ‘influence’

I was thinking the other day about how so many of my interests have been influenced by friendship.

Certainly not all of them. I’ve been a reader, writer, and musician since I was seven, and those interests have remained steadfast in the intervening years. But even those interests were encouraged by someone, only the someone in this case was my mother, who made sure we had a piano and piano lessons, who took me to the library twice a month and read aloud to me every day, who came into my first grade classroom and taught us all how to write stories using those newfangled personal computers. Likewise, I started hiking as soon as I could walk because it was a family activity. I started playing board games and computer games because my dad and sister liked them, I started liking travel when my dad took me to Paris, etc.

But even now as an adult, I find my interests evolve and deepen in interesting ways based on my friends.

I’d gotten kind of sick of board games. I really liked BSG, but otherwise wasn’t very enthusiastic. But then a friend of mine invited me to a game night and introduced me to Dominion, which I enjoyed, and I made other friends there who introduced me to other games I really liked too. And then I began to seek out games myself and talk to other people who also liked games and gave me their recommendations. And before long, I knew a fair amount about board games.

I’ve always loved music, but I didn’t used to go to hardly any live shows. I didn’t go to my first proper rock concert until I was twenty-three, and in one of the greatest serendipitous acts of my life, bumped into a friend of mine in Vienna who was going to get tickets to see U2, who were one of my very favorite bands.

But it wasn’t until much later that I began to go to shows more regularly. My friend invited me to one, and I tried it out and discovered I loved it. So I went to another, then another. I asked how he kept track of all the dates and he introduced me to Songkick. And now I go to a show probably every month or so.

Same thing with theater. I liked theater a lot, and once I taught musical theater, I made an effort to go to more shows. But I started liking theater even more when I made a friend who is hugely knowledgeable about theater and always knows what’s playing and can discuss the show at length with me afterwards. And so I started going more.

And we mustn’t forget dancing. I started dancing originally because of musical theater. And then I stopped. And then I began dancing when I lived in London because my stepmom at the time knew of a good class she thought I’d like. And then I moved back to the States and I stopped. And then I heard about blues dancing multiple times, but at first I thought, “Oh, partner dancing,” and then later I thought, “Too many injuries.”

But then I was no longer injured (hooray!) and my good friend had started dancing a lot, and I became curious. So I told her to let me know sometime I could come with her. And I fell in love, and that was a year ago now.

Somehow my friends even got me to sing karaoke. I don't know how THAT happened.

Somehow my friends even got me to sing karaoke. I don’t know how THAT happened.

Thinking of all these interests I’ve rediscovered and/or deepened through my friends, I feel very lucky. By sharing the things they love, they’ve made my life so much richer.

Next up? I’m on the lookout for a movie friend. I can usually find someone to watch the latest action flick with me, but none of my three favorite movies from last year were big blockbusters. I heard about one from a new acquaintance by chance, and by chance I was also with a friend who wanted to see it at the time, so we went (What We Do in the Shadows). And at that movie I saw the preview for another movie I wanted to see (Mr. Holmes). And at that movie, I saw the preview for another movie I wanted to see, and that movie ended up being my favorite of the year (The End of the Tour). So having a friend (or friends) to help with the discovery of these types of movies (and talk to me about them afterwards) would be incredible.

And in the meantime, I will continue to marvel at the way our friends end up influencing us in so many different ways.

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Thank goodness for Jonathan Carroll and his Facebook page, because whenever my brain is feeling slow, I take a look at what he has posted recently to get my thoughts flowing again. Recently he shared this quotation:

People will kill you over time, and how they’ll kill you is with tiny, harmless phrases, like “be realistic.” – Dylan Moran

This makes me think about how subtle an influence a person can have on us. So subtle, in fact, that often no one in the room is conscious of what’s happening. A comment here, a snort there, and a little body language thrown in for good measure, and our thoughts and emotions can be deeply affected:

“I’m not good enough.”

“Maybe I’m being stupid.”

“My career/life goals aren’t important/valid/valuable.”

It’s so easy to diminish, to de-motivate, to plant the seeds of doubt, to make someone feel lesser. It’s so easy to neglect to listen to what other people have to say in favor of listening to ourselves. It’s so easy to sting someone without even thinking about what we are saying.

As a writer, I believe that words matter, perhaps more than most. The written word matters, and the spoken word matters. Body language, tone of voice, and mannerisms matter, all contributing to the overall message that someone is communicating.

Because I think words matter, I pay a lot of attention. I listen. I think about what people say to me. I think not only about the words used, but about the manner of their delivery, the context, and other circumstances that are relevant.

For many years, I internally chided myself for my “sensitivity.” But now I recognize what a gift it can be. Because if I’m paying attention, then I can notice more of those small messages, many of them negative, that I receive from other people. And then I can work to counter them and lessen their impact.

Words matter. (Photo Credit: felipe_gabaldon via Compfight cc)

That’s why choosing carefully the people with whom we spend a lot of time is so important. Not only will they be affecting the activities we participate in, the subjects we talk about, and even the amount of food we eat, but they will be sending subtle unconscious messages that have a real impact (potentially either positive or negative) on our moods, our world views, our self esteem, and what we think is possible for ourselves. The more we notice, the more we can make deliberate decisions about whether to spend time with people who make us feel awesome, energized, and supported for being who we are, or whether to spend time with people who make us feel tired, drained, ignored, and not enough. The choice is clear, but only if we are able to track what’s going on.

Words matter. Our environment matters. The choice to be kind matters.

What tiny, harmless phrase have you taken to heart lately? What would you rather hear?

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Accidental Influence

Today is a frazzled sort of day. I’m leaving tomorrow (perhaps even as you’re reading this) to attend SCBWI’s summer conference, and the day before travel, even relatively easy travel, generally features me heatedly checking off to do lists and worrying that I won’t have time to complete everything. I have more travel coming up as well, so if I seem a bit less substantive or even (gasp!) miss a Tuesday or Thursday during the next few weeks, that is why. I am having trouble cohering because I keep getting distracted by the fact that my new “I have mutant teeth” sensitive toothpaste is too big to pass through security, or that I have to remember to pack my battered copy of The Phantom Tollbooth.

In between these logistical reminders to myself, I’ve been thinking a lot about influence–specifically on the influence we have over other people. Some influence we take for granted; if I were to tell you that my husband and I are huge influences on each other, I doubt you would be surprised. But when I think back over my life so far, I can come up with a list of names of people who have had a strong impact on me. Not all of them are related to me. Not all of them did I ever get to know well. Not all of them am I still in touch with today.

Some of these people have no idea of the role they played in my life. They may not even remember me. They are like stealth actors who dropped in to teach me something I really needed to know or show me another way of living before moving on. Some of them even died before I was born.

This is useful to remember when contemplating creating a life that allows us to teach, influence, change the world, increase awareness. We never know who we might reach. We never know when we might say the exactly right thing that gives another person an “aha!” moment. Sometimes we won’t learn of our own impact until years after the fact, or perhaps not even then. Many times we’ll have accidental influence–we’ll have no idea that someone will have taken our casually spoken words to heart. We won’t realize that by hearing about our lives, someone else will decide to do things differently. We just can’t always know. But the not knowing doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

We all yield influence, whether we’re aware of it or not. So the question becomes not if, but rather what we want our contribution to be. And since we can’t always be aware of it when it’s happening, an even bigger question is this: how do we live our own lives in such a way that we can maximize our positive influence? I don’t know if I have a complete answer to that question yet, but it’s something I plan to think about in the upcoming weeks.

In the meantime, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the people on my list, both because of what they taught me and because they’ve helped me realize how important every individual can be.

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