Birds of the same feather flock together: how your friends shape your lives

Birds of a feather flock together

“How your friends are shaping your life for better or worse”

What we condition ourselves with and surround ourselves with has a compelling impact on how we think and how our lives function. There are numerous factors that lead to this conditioning. Of these conditions, the inclusion or exclusion of friends is the most important.

Most of the time we surround ourselves with “look-alikes”—individuals who are similar to us in appearance, beliefs, and similar interests. Think of your five closest friends. Most likely, the main thing that unites the two of you is interests. We naturally see the benefits of our friends, but we don’t realize what traits are bringing you down.

For example, when a friend of ours becomes obese, our probability increases by 57%. When this friend is mutual, the probability increases to 171%. This is according to a study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine. The actions of our friends dictate what we think is socially acceptable or unacceptable. If it is acceptable for our friend to eat poorly, we find that it is also acceptable. In his book “Blink,” Malcomb Gladwell discusses a murder that took place in a busy urban neighborhood with a large number of witnesses. Not a single person made an effort to stop him. The reason? He argues that it’s because no one else made an effort to do it. It was seen as the “normal” thing to do in the situation. Now, upon reflection, it was clearly not the right thing to do. But it’s amazing how much our thoughts are conditioned.

Derrick Coleman, a No. 1 pick in the 1990 NBA draft, was touted as a potential hall of famer. He was compared to Charles Barkley and Karl Malone with the added dimension of an outside shooting game. Many, including Sports Illustrated, believed that he could have been the greatest power forward of all time. Despite a still moderately successful career, his teams tended to struggle, often playing better without him. His career began in New Jersey, where he constantly feuded with players and coaches. He then was traded to Philadelphia, where he remained a cancer in the locker room. In his first year with the Sixers, they won 18 games, their second-worst finish in franchise history. He then moved to the Hornets, where the team enjoyed limited success, but underperformed and was under .500 when Derrick was in the lineup. For me, Derrick’s personality and hostility had a huge impact on his teammates and the success of the team.

But believing that influences can only be negative is simply false. The power of positive influence can be one of life’s greatest passions. Joe Jones, a community crusader in the Baltimore area, embodies this. Joe was once a drug addict and absentee father, and is now the founder, owner, and CEO of a program called Responsible Fatherhood that gives men the support and tools they need to become better fathers. A recent study showed that 26% of American children live without a father. This shocked me, until I saw that 69% of African American children in the Baltimore area live without one. How can this happen? Joe Jones has asked the same question, but he is using his determination and positive influence to answer those questions and come up with positive solutions. He has become an important figure in the lives of many young parents and is proving every day that we can influence others to do the right thing and live a better life.

I ask all of you who are reading this. Take the first step to improve your inner circle. If you have a friend who is bringing you down, assess the situation and whether or not he is in your good friendship plan. Determine if it is better to remove that friend from your circle. Also, work to improve your circle by adding a different trustworthy or inspiring person.