“Self-Help” Memes I love to hate – You are the Average of the 5 People you spend the Most Time With

Around the Winter Equinox, I started a routine of ingesting regular amounts of nourishing media – a mixture of self-help, inspirational, DIY, and How-to media.  And I kept running into the “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. – a quote from John Rohn, a wealth and productivity guru.  On the face of it, this makes sense, I totally agree that humans are intrinsically social beings and will inevitably be influenced by those they surround themselves with … but at the same time, what makes humans different from pack animals, is that we have consciousness.  That isn’t to say that everybody makes conscious choices all the time, ha-hardly!  BUT, we have the potential to be very conscious about the choices we make.

And this meme of being the Average of 5, only makes broad sense if you are the type of person, who is totally resonant with their 5 folks . This would either be by luck, or conscious choice; or you are so unaware of your separate consciousness, that you just take on the characteristics of your 5 folks, almost by osmosis.  In both cases, there seems to be this externalization of power and identity, with which I have a real problem.  Any sort of message that is dis-empowering, I can’t help but rip away at it to reveal its logical weaknesses.

If one follows the logic of this meme – One thinks – OH, so if I want to be successful painter, musician, entrepreneur – I DEFINITELY need to surround myself with those super successful people in order to become just like them.  To believe this would be like believing that if you put a bowl of batter on a shelf of pastries, it will suddenly turn into a Chocolate Eclair or Apple Tart.

Just being around people, doesn’t MAKE you like these people, it all has to do with the dynamics of the interaction between yourself and these people, and who you choose to be in response to these people.  This meme doesn’t account at all for the tragic commonality of alienation of individuals from their communities and environments.  Just because you spend a lot of time with various people, doesn’t necessarily mean you share their values, or beliefs.  Often people “make do” and perhaps their outer life matches their environment, but their inner life is not singing along.

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The fact that so many people are so desperate to find community, or create meaning in their lives, or that there is an epidemic of depression and anxiety, points out to the fact that either EVERY pod of 5 folks is a mess or that there are many folks who are NOT at ALL the average of 5 of their closest companions and are yearning to break free.

This “5 folks” meme only makes sense in a society where there is no mobility and absolutely no access to media.  What this meme fails to address is that we are influenced as much or more so by the humanity expressed in the media we ingest as the human beings we interact with.  Look at the typical disenchanted loner teenager, they consume information from social media, tv, internet like manna from heaven, and spit out the “WHATEVERRRR” their parents have to say or think.

I remember, growing up – pre-internet, consciously blocking out the world of “in-person” influence, so that I could mentally inhabit the world of books, tv, or radio.  Sometimes, I would have friends, who “got” what I was interested in, and this felt like a miracle.  But more often than not – my 5 folks didn’t exist. I grew up with my Mom, and we moved around so much, I rarely had the opportunity to build a connection to a community. And I was too introverted to break through the “new kid” syndrome  to make friends easily. Over time, I noticed that my success socially had more to do with whether the people resonated with MY values, rather than with me trying to resonate with theirs.

It would have been psychotic for me to make the choice to adjust my personality to “fit-in” to 12 different schools and communities, in 12 years.  What I did, was hold on tight to my essential self … not an identity, because I never had enough time to create one, but rather understanding my tastes, my interests, my dislikes, my feelings … and then I observed.  I would make the superficial changes to “fit in”, a hairstyle or how I dressed.  But the things that mattered, what was going on in my brain and heart – those didn’t change for anybody.   Perhaps it is easier to lose oneself, or never really discover one’s self, if one’s life is fairly consistent, but mine has never been, so I have endeavored to develop a certain consistency within myself.  So, at the very least, I could count on myself.

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So I wonder, am I an anomaly?  Especially, since Mr. Rohn’s quote has become a new agey mantra.  Are most people swept up into the tides of other people’s influence?  Certainly many are, but in societies that offer as much diversity as the U.S., it is easy enough to opt out, at least internally, from outside environmental influences.

Why is this such a concern?  Because very few of us, have the luxury to be around the people who will fully support us in our dreams/aspirations and the struggles we take on to make them come true.  It isn’t that the people around us, are necessarily haters, but we can’t expect our people to support us and understand us ALL the time, as we grow and change.  It would be great to be surrounded by a collection of mentors and cheerleaders. But at the end of the day, who we are depends upon how WE choose to act independent of our environment.  If you look at anybody who has reached a certain amount of success in life, or even pursuing a particular activity, more often than not, they chose to break away from the norm of their social environment.  So how does these meme apply to these folks?  Frankly, it doesn’t.  Because the 5 folks thing, is just a revision of the cliché – People are sheep.  And personally, I think anyone who has some control of their consciousness can do better.

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