Are My Friends Stunting My Growth?

a goldfish in a small tank..
People, like goldfish, cannot outgrow the size of their tank.

Human outcomes are shaped by nurture more than they are by nature. This is due to the unique facts of our species. Humans are very high-maintenance and need constant attention and care the day they are born, and much of the same for many years before they reach an age of maturity. The basic social reality of our existence, in fact, stays with us our entire lives. Aristotle famously described man as “a social animal,” which means that people are interdependent. People influence each other and need each other to thrive, in contrast with “a beast or a god,” who rely on no one.

Man Is A Social Animal

Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ”

Aristotle

Our houses and neighborhoods and schools are an influential part of our environment. But the most influential part of our environment are the people in it. A number of popular expressions illustrate this truth. In English, they say “We are the sum total of the five people we hang out with the most.” In Spanish, they say, “Díme con quien andas y te diré quién eres.” (Tell me who you hang out with, and I will tell you who you are.)

Both testaments of the Bible address this truth, both from a positive and negative angle.

As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

1 Corinthians 15:33

People influence our sense of what is socially acceptable, and, since we are social creatures, we all desire to be accepted by the people around us. If my friends in high school aspire to become lawyers and doctors and engineers, I may judge my standing by my performance in school and my intellectual and educational aspirations. If my friends are 5-star athletic prospects, I may judge my standing by my physical strength and sports performance. On the other hand, if my friends have no ambition, I may not feel any great motivation to change and achieve.

It works the same with morality. If my friends think a fool, act a fool, talk a fool–not only will they influence me, but I may get a false sense of accomplishment for being “better” than they are. I have seen Christians do this with pornography. They may have a friend who watches pornography every other day, and they watch it once a week. Should they be congratulating themselves that their toxic habit, and likely addiction, is weekly rather than every other day? Instead of comparing ourselves to other people, we should compare ourselves to Christ, because that’s who God wants us imitate.

When we are young, we don’t have much say over who we are around. I don’t recall picking who my parents or teachers were. However, when we get older, we get to choose who our friends are, whom we marry, where we work, where we go to church.

Let’s not let the goldfish in the baby tank be us. Let’s choose our inner circle wisely because we don’t want to look back one day and think, “Where could I have been in life if I had only surrounded myself with the right people?”

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