I don't know if you experience themes in you daily life, I know I do. Often actually. Almost weekly, an idea or truth or topic will somehow align itself perfectly and continually show up randomly throughout my days. Sometimes the themes are large and heavy, like the concepts of justice and humanity. Other times its something simple, like the importance of Hamlet being performed in prison. Other times it is something dark, like the role hate plays in our lives and surrounding society. My favorite "week of themes", though, was the one when Russia continually invaded my space and I was then fortunate enough to learn how three Russian men, at different times, prevented all out war against the US, saving thousands of lives.
This week was another one of those weeks, with the theme being, "You are the sum of the five people you hang out with most." It started with an email from my boss, Mr. Thompson, and ended with an early morning conversation with a fellow colleague, Mr. Truax, when he shared how most all of his teaching accolades can be traced back to his early years and the mentors he surrounded himself with. Between the two bookends, this theme continually crept into my thoughts through podcasts (Your Weird, by The Minimalists), my current morning reading (The Art of Gathering: How we Meet and Why it Matters, by Priya Parker), conversations with my son about whom he chooses to hang out with, conversations with some of staff about whom they decide to hang out with, and a conversation with my big sister about whom we decide to "let into her arena" (a phrase from Brene Brown and her brilliant Netflix special, A Call to Courage).
I appreciate the concept that we are the sum of the five people we hang out with most, largely because it’s true! Think of students and how the groups they cluster with are greater than the any of the present individuals, how it encourages kids to act and think in ways they may never do on their own (negative and positive). Think about the people we go to when we're tired or scared or hurt and how the advice they give, and the direction they point us toward greatly impacts the kind of people we are and will become. We are, most often, the sum of the five people we hang out with most.
But it isn't just the people that impact us. It's also the stories we surround ourselves with. News stories, the novels and non-fiction we choose to read, the movies and TV programs we binge or watch on a nightly basis, the podcasts we listen to, and the music that entertains us. These also play a crucial role in the summing up of who we are, how we interpret life and the world around, and how we choose to interact with that life and the world around.
This notion, this truth, that we are the sum of what we CHOOSE to surround ourselves with is deeply comforting to me because it means that although we are greatly susceptible to our surroundings, we are also in complete control. WE CAN CHOSE WHO WE LISTEN TO AND THE STORIES WE SURROUND OURSELVES WITH!!!
Who or what kind of stories are you surrounded by? Do they encourage you to sit in the stink and muck of the situation? Or do they sniff once and then move on and toward a solution? Do they feed frustration or hope? Are they healthy? Or are they toxic?
Because we are not water, simply following the path of least resistance, completely characterized by our immediate surroundings. We are human - we’re alive! - and therefore have a choice on how to respond, how to think, and how to ensure we are healthy by purposefully surrounding ourselves with people and ideas and stories that, as Kim Chambers says, "normalize greatness."
Who are your five that make up the sum of who you are? And perhaps more importantly, what are they - and you - making?
The answer to these questions has been on my heart and mind a lot this week.