Surround Yourself With Good People
Whom do we allow to surround us? The people in our circles will have an effect on us. Will that impact be positive or negative?
I have seen movies containing profanity since I was around 10 or 11 years old. (My parents tried hard to avoid that, but some movies slid under my parents’ radar and some I saw at a friend’s house.)
The point is, I was exposed to it.
It wasn’t until my father (a Christian pastor) called me out when he overheard me drop an f-bomb that I realized my friends and their bad language were negatively influencing me.
Influence works both ways, however.
A positive influence
Here’s another (more positive) story from my youth:
To say I hated math as an adolescent would be an understatement. Math was always challenging for me, and so I did not see the point of learning more than the basics.
The people around us make a difference in our lives, either positive or negative. Then I took a physics class in high school taught by an engaging and knowledgeable teacher. It was filled with students who wanted to learn and who worked well together.
The thought dawned on me: I was enjoying the class because of my teacher and classmates, not just because math was finally making sense. If my past math classes had been filled with positive influences, would I have felt differently about math?
The people around us make a difference in our lives, either positive or negative. We may think we’re immune to the people in our circles, feeling that we are only putting out influence and not soaking it in. But that’s simply not true.
Bible verses about peer pressure
The Bible mentions this principle in several places, emphasizing the good and bad sides of influence.
- Negative: “Do not be deceived, ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
- Positive: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17; see “As Iron Sharpens Iron”).
- Both negative and positive: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).
So, how do we go about making changes in our lives so that we are surrounded by the kind of people who help us grow and improve, rather than the kind of people who negatively influence us?
What about when I can’t control who surrounds me?
We can’t always control whom we are around—like our classmates, coworkers, family members and so on.
There will be times when we have to interact with unhealthy influences, maybe even on a daily basis. In those cases, we should aim to keep our contact with those toxic personalities to a bare minimum.
We don’t have to be short, curt or rude to these people who are not good to be around, but we don’t have to hang out with them after school or work.
Dealing with these types of people can be very difficult, especially when you have no choice but to be around them often throughout the week, perhaps even for several hours.
The Bible encourages us to live peaceably with everyone, as much as we can control (Romans 12:18). Yet it also specifically warns about letting bad influences affect us—negative influences that seek to have us become more “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).
When we are stuck in these situations, it takes God’s wisdom to navigate around such unhealthy influences. We should ask Him for that wisdom (James 1:5).
What about when I can control who surrounds me?
When we are able to choose who surrounds us, we should look for the gallery of heroes rather than the gallery of rogues. Consider the following somewhat hyperbolic examples of certain types of personalities and character traits.
- Debbie Downers and negative Nellies: “Everything is always going wrong. Woe is me and woe is you. Silver linings are a myth designed to make us forget about how awful reality is.”
- Positive Pollys and grounded Pollyannas: “Things are tough, but we can make it through this if we work together. It’s not all terrible, and we can use the good to get us through what is terrible.”
- Anxious Annies and suspicious minds: “They are out to get me and out to get you. Don’t do anything challenging, or else it will definitely blow up in your face. Things will not work out right in the end for anyone.”
- Walkers by faith and researchers: “I’ve spent some time researching this from reliable sources, and I think it is a good idea. Here is some information that might ease your mind.”
- The selfish and sinful: “You’ve got to look out for yourself. If what you are doing makes you feel good, then who cares what others think? Everyone else should give us freedom and let us live how we want.”
- The good Samaritans and shining lights: “That joke was awful, and I’m not comfortable with that. Let’s pull over to help that guy or at least call the police. I’m not going to compromise who I am for money.”
- The know-it-alls who know it all, just ask them: “I can dish it out, but I can’t take it. While I’m talking, just listen. I don’t want an actual conversation. Let me tell you the facts—and, please, no interruptions.”
- The humble and self-deprecating: “That’s hilarious, I’m always doing stuff like that. I’m not sure about that, let me look into it and get back to you. I’ve struggled with that and know how hard it is.”
Whom would you want surrounding you?
Okay, admittedly real human beings are much more complex than these stereotypes and hyperbolic examples. But we can glean some basic ground rules from them.
There are times in our lives when we all can be anxious, prideful, negative and selfish. There are also many times in our lives when we all can be positive, rational, generous, courageous and faithful.
The difference lies in the concept of the rule and the exception to the rule. What are they like as a rule?
- Are they sometimes negative Nellies when things get tough? Or are they negative Nellies even when things are rosy?
- Are they arrogant know-it-alls every time they open their mouths? Or is it a sometimes embarrassing exception to their overall rule of being humble and able to take a joke?
Surrounding ourselves with good people means using wisdom and discernment to decide what influences we want in our lives and what influences we don’t want.When we carefully select the people who surround us and who spend time with us, we should decide to surround ourselves with those who, as a general rule, demonstrate a healthy personality and way of life.
If, as a general rule, their lives or personalities are predominantly toxic, with only a few healthy exceptions to that rule, we would be wise to avoid spending too much time with them.
Of course, just because we choose to surround ourselves with healthy, positive influences does not mean we are to dismiss, hate or give up on others who seem predominantly toxic. Christians, after all, are called to demonstrate love toward all people (1 Corinthians 16:14; Galatians 5:14).
Christians should always be kind, generous and merciful to everyone, even to those we don’t want influencing us in a negative way.
Jesus Christ, on occasion, would come into contact with greedy tax collectors, prostitutes and other people living a toxic lifestyle. He didn’t abhor or avoid them like the plague. He was kind to them. But He never condoned their lifestyle, and He didn’t spend all His time with them.
He showed mercy and compassion, just as we should show everyone we encounter. But He did not join in their destructive behaviors and attitudes. He constantly pointed them to a better way and gave them a perfect example of the right way to live (John 5:14; 8:11).
Surrounding ourselves with good people means using wisdom and discernment to decide what influences we want in our lives and what influences we don’t want. Again, we have to consider how they live their lives as a general rule.
It is not a form of abandonment or elitism to decide that we need to spend less time with certain people.
What influence do we want in our lives?
Influence is powerful.
We should use godly discernment and wisdom to carefully select the influences that we surround ourselves with.
You can guess which of these two influences benefitted me and which did not.
It pays to surround ourselves with good people.
In other words, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).