The Company You Keep

A friend of mine wrote a song with that title a long time ago, & the band White Rabbits has a similarly titled song too. I think it’s still the motto of some insurance company.

A long time ago a friend gave me a piece of advice: only hang out with people you admire. It’s a piece I’ve returned to again and again over time even though I’ve generally had an uncanny ability to choose friends well. Only in the past few years have I jmade a couple of very bad choices. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but in retrospect, here’s what I failed to do: I failed to look carefully at what people do NOT when they are sad or suffering or lonely, but how they behave when they are on top of their game. You can really only tell the content of someone’s character when they are sitting pretty: when they have enough money, or power, or luck, when things are going well for them. It’s then that you see what a person is made of: whether they become cruel, petty tyrants, or cliquish and gossipy and judgmental.

The thing is, when people suffer or feel lonely, they are often more sympathetic, not less, and they will be kind because they need kindness returned, but when they have everything, that’s when you know who they truly are. I have seen too many people become arrogant, obnoxious assholes when, at long last, they think they’ve got something other people envy, whether it’s money or popularity or power or fame. Over and over again, I’ve seen it. Sadly, this observation has made me more cynical about human nature, not less, but it also helps me clarify what kind of people I want to hang out with, who is truly generous and living honestly, the ones who only use whatever good fortune they have to create abundance in others’ lives as well.

So check that graphic I posted again yesterday. If people who are your friends fit a lot more of the characteristics of the right side of that graphic, your bar is set way too fucking low. Aspire to generosity, abundance, and service (and I don’t mean that in the kinky way, although that’s fine too, if that’s what floats your boat). It brings so much more meaning, and the world only gets bigger and brighter and more full of love.

One more thing: sometimes you’re hard pressed to find even one person you admire that you can hang out with. Sometimes, none. But whatever you do, don’t lower your bar to assuage your loneliness. That’ll kick your ass in the long run; it did mine. If it’s necessary, only hang out in books with people you admire; read biographies of people who have quietly done amazing things, or have even suffered notoriety with grace. Believe me, there are plenty of people out there to admire, but they’re often too busy doing amazing things to make themselves look admirable.

And with that: onward and upward in 2013. Here’s hoping you all have a wildly transcendent year.