The Company We Keep

I just spent the last two weekends amongst family and friends. The first weekend was with my best friends from high school and their wives, 8 couples in all; the second weekend was camping with my brother and his family.

This high school group of guys, we called ourselves “The Association”, was a life changer for me. Before meeting this group, I was hanging with the wrong guys. I didn’t go seeking the wrong guys, but I did allow it to ‘just happen.’ Then after an encounter with law enforcement as a result of these “friends”, my father informed me of his concerns about my questionable talent recognition in friends and acquaintances. He used the expression, “You are measured by the company you keep” in his successful attempt to steer me to a better path.

Camping with my brother and his family is always a great experience. We have been doing this camping trip with them for almost 20 years and have used the relaxation time to not only unwind but reconnect about the details in our lives. I am blessed to come from a family that is close and enjoys each other’s company. And not just my immediate family but an extended family that values friendship and relationships.

The expression “have company over” is to have a visitor, family or friend, stop by. Its origin is in the Old French term ‘compagnie’, meaning a “friendship, intimacy” which came from the Latin word companion, “one who eats bread with you.”

I saw a sign in someone’s home recently that said, “Friends are the Family We Choose.” The popular saying is likely derived from a line in Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” – “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” In some situations, friends have replaced family. A Michigan State study concluded that friends can be more important than family as we age. The study found that both family and friendships influenced overall health and happiness. However, friendships “became a stronger predictor of health and happiness” as people get older. One reason is that people can move on from the friends that don’t make them feel good. Family, on the other hand, will always be there whether their influence is positive or negative. I am one that is all about having family and friends in my life, especially Rusted Friends, friends, who like family, know your whole life experiences.

There is a recent term in business mentoring called “success circle.” Developing and maintaining a “success circle” is key to keeping us grounded as we move and grow through our journey. Building a success circle isn’t just about making friends nor networking, it’s about keeping good company with advisors, mentors, role models and confidants. As my daughters move into adulthood, I see the results of their decisions and attentiveness to my words – “don’t be a Processionary Caterpillar”; “don’t keep company with anyone who’s not going where you aspire to go”; “never make someone a priority when you are only an option for them.”

“Rosetans” are inhabitants of Roseto, Pennsylvania, a modest village in Eastern Pennsylvania. In 1962, scientists descended on Roseto to figure out why Roseto was a healthier place to live than identical towns elsewhere; despite the fact they smoked old-style Italian stogie cigars, drank wine with seeming abandon, worked in toxic environs (slate quarries), and ate foods brimming with cholesterol. They learned Rosetans had close knit, deep family-centered social lives with cohesive community relationships. In short, Rosetans were nourished by people, the company they kept. No one seemed too unhappy or too stressed out. And the proof was a heart attack death rate almost half of everyone else around them.

Thirty years later, in 1992, a follow up survey confirmed that as Rosetans chased the “American Dream” of prosperity they became less family centric, less community oriented, and they became less healthy. The wearing off of the “Roseto” effect happened within a generation. Rosetans now suffer the ravages of heart disease equal to society. The careless dismantling of the social ties between family and community can be documented with an almost perfect correlation between Americanization and heart disease death rates.

This wisdom of the company we keep has been known and discussed for centuries. Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher, born in 50 AD and once a slave in Turkey said, “The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” Colin Powell said, “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.” Esmeralda Santiago said, “Tell me who you walk with and I’ll tell you who you are.” Plus, Jim Rohn who I have quoted before in my blogs sums it up, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Scripture also teaches us the lesson about the company we keep. Psalms are “a school of prayer” that provide us with models to follow; while Proverbs is a collection of sayings and instructions to teach wisdom, not only to the young and inexperienced but also to the advanced. Wisdom not as knowledge but as practical expertise.

Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.”

Psalm 26:4, “I do not sit with worthless men, nor with hypocrites do I mingle.”

Proverbs 13:20 – “Walk with the wise and you become wise, but the companion of fools fares badly.”

Proverbs 27:17, “Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another.” Iron sharpens the “face” (definition, edge) of iron, and as such a human sharpens the “face” (thoughts, words) of another. We learn from each other and grow in wisdom by conversing.

Keep in mind that in addition to the disciples, Jesus kept company with sinners and tax collectors (Mark 2:16, Luke 5:30, Luke 15:2). Assessing ‘company’ simply by perceptions and what is on the surface does not reveal the true character of one’s companions. Scripture’s Pharisees are today replaced with the successful and popular yet self-absorbed. We should choose our company based on their hearts and aspirations, such that they inspire ours.

Let’s make wise decisions around the people with whom we invest our precious resource of time. Keep company with friends and family that support our dreams and nourish us along our journey. Who we are is an outcome of the company we keep.

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