A few days ago, two things happened in the same hour that caused me to pause and reflect about the power of influence. The first was I used a word I never use. I realized it was something one of the students at the school says a lot. The second was I made a gesture I never make. I knew it was something I had picked up from someone in my life. But I can’t for the life of me remember who.
Influence can be sneaky. Nobody asked me if I wanted to start using that slang word or making the gesture. I just did. We all adapt our mannerisms, our speech, and even our way of thinking based on the people around us.
Sort of a scary proposition. If I’m not careful, I’ll become something else entirely outside of my control, a parrot of the things around me. So which things do I absorb and why? Here are a few thoughts.
As with my slang word and my gesture, the clearest indication of being influenced is what you repeat. Which authors or movies or politicians do you quote? What jokes do you retell?
Paying special attention to what we repeat and why is the biggest key to understanding influence and the power it has over us.
Repeating things is not bad. But the deeper question is why am I repeating this? Did it get a lot of laughs when I heard it? Does it sound wise or cool? Did I see it influence others to give money or shower adulation?
Or did it inspire me? Does it inspire something deep inside my soul?
The truth is, I repeat what aligns with my values. I share and replicate something that reaffirms who I already am. This can be good or bad. It can help me find words or narratives for the truth of who I am. Or it can cause me to drift from who I am into the snare of adopting the values of others. Inherited values are not the same as owned values.
If you want to know what is influencing you, start with the question of what you value and why. You will likely end up thinking about your family history and pop-culture. We often have discussions about the differences in generational cartoons and music and cell phone availability and how it has shaped the way we view the world.
Your values were shaped by influences. And will continue to be. The harder part of growing up is to understand these influences and decide whether or not you want to own their conclusions for yourself.
In a strange twist, another thing that influences us is radical differences to our belief systems. Ones that inspire us. That challenge our System One Thinking. When I travelled the world, the exposure to different cultures was like getting slapped upside the head. In the best way possible. The things we read in books or hear at lectures that make us question who we are and what matters to us are things that are influencing who we are.
In the same vein, people we admire and pay close attention to inspire us. They show us something we see as true, something we want to aspire toward. Anything that holds our attention is influencing us. It is saying something that either reinforces our values or inspires us to better ones.