We are not average

Published 9:19 am Thursday, April 28, 2022

My mother used to tell me that if you have five great friends in your life, you will be lucky. Her follow up comment was that if you had one of these special great friends, you should tell them. After all, they are a blessing beyond comprehension to you. Tell them of their place in your life, she said.

I have long believed what my mother said about friends. I have also followed her advice and told several of those great friends what they mean to me. Alas, I have also had great friends whose role in my life was not as clear to me while they were alive. Only after they were gone did I realize that they still live through their continued and lasting influence in my life.

Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers said during his recent concert in Auburn that you are the average of the five people you have spent the most time with. I immediately wrote these words down. Medley was talking about his time with the other original brother, Bobby Hatfield, who passed away in 2003.

These words originally came from the motivational speaker Jim Rohn. Rohn’s follow up comment was “show me your friends and I will show you your future”. Most kids have heard some version of those words of warning from their parents during their lives. If you hang around with the wrong crowd, have the wrong friends, you are bound to get in trouble. It is not too hard to accept that phrase as at least partially true.

However, as I thought more about me being the average of the five people I have spent the most time with, I just do not think that statement is true. The people who have touched and influenced my life over time are much greater in number. Their individual impact varies dramatically. Being the average of even a few great people implies something homogeneous, more like a formula or a recipe.

However, studies have shown that we are influenced by those we choose to associate with, often in unexpected ways. For instance, if you have a friend that becomes obese, you are 20 percent more likely to gain weight yourself. If you have a friend that smokes, you are 61 percent more likely to smoke yourself. However, if your friend’s friend uses tobacco, you are still 29 percent more likely to do so yourself. It seems that we are also influenced by people more distant to us than our closest friends and family.

Those influences are not all negative. If we are around happy people, we are more likely to be happy ourselves. Nothing shocking about that. But it is encouraging that if your friend’s friend is happy, you have a 6 percent greater chance of being happy yourself. That might not seem like much, but in today’s challenging world, every little bit helps.

If I am the average of the five people I have spent the most time with, does that mean I am done? What if I have not yet met the greatest friend of my life. Will 20 percent of my makeup change if one of the five drops off the list and a new person is added?

A far more accurate statement might be that we are the average of everyone that surrounds us. I find that encouraging. We can positively impact our own lives simply by looking at what we do, who we associate with, and who is part of our regular surroundings.

We cannot do much about our past, but we can do plenty about our future. If you are lucky enough to have just one more of those truly great friends in your life, then the best may be yet to come. I am grateful that I am the sum of interaction with lots of people. I hope that there are more to come. I will continue to look for friends, whether they be great or not. While I may or may not be average, I know from my own experience there is no such thing as an average friend. I am thankful for them all.