Have you ever noticed how over time you start using the same words and phrases as those you talk to the most? Have you ever found yourself mirroring the gestures of your closest colleagues and acquaintances? Or perhaps falling back on familiar logic or information to buttress your point during an argument? What about cooking food with the goal of making it look and taste just how a parent or guardian used to make it when you were growing up? Most likely. After all, it is very hard to be in a place and not of that place. Eventually the place ends up rubbing off on you, influencing you, affecting you, becoming a part of you. That is why you have to be careful little legs where you go and where you stay.
There is no way your environment will not affect you. It seeps into your being, takes a hold of your mind and begins to operate in your life. This mostly happens without your consent or even conscious acknowledgement of its presence or power. No matter how strong willed or strong-minded you are, the easiest way to fight (negative) external influences getting in is to flee them. We have seen heartwarming stories of convicts (perhaps even wrongly convicted) rising above their current context (jail) and focusing their minds on other matters, such as studying for a course or building their bodies through an extreme exercise regimen. However this is an extreme situation, since most of us are not actually bound hand and foot. Therefore it is down to our free will, our discernment and our selectivity to determine where we go and where we stay.
Have you ever seen a plant in a garden that is not affected by the soil it is planted in? Even the largest tree, which has grown and flourished for decades will be affected by adverse changes to its environment. Whether it be climate change, drought or bad soil. Initially the tree will stand tall and remain unchanged, but over time that which comes in through its roots will ultimately affect its branches, leaves and overall wellbeing. The same is true with us. We must be careful where we dwell and mindful of what we find when we get there because whatever environment we plant ourselves in we will become like and manifest its traits. This can work for our good or to our detriment, depending on where we choose to be planted.
We cannot sit in a place and keep our fingers plugged into our ears the whole time. We cannot bounce back all the vibes, drive away all the negativity and ignore everything we disagree with. Even the contemporary ear plugs (headphones) will ultimately have to be taken out and we will have to engage with those around us. Therefore it is important to cognisant of our environment, and if we deem it is not quite right – whether negative, malevolent or dysfunctional then begin to plan our exit strategy.
This proverbial place we go to can be a group we belong to, those we surround ourselves with (friends, colleagues, congregation members, etc.) or a place where the general doctrine and teachings do not align with the essence of us. It could be our work environment, our network or a literal brick and mortar structure that tends to embody things we know are not good for us. Maybe it’s the old neighborhood where they take joy in counting those who have tried and failed, or the barbershop where they preach about how no one will ever make it past a certain income bracket, or an extremely toxic nail salon where people congregate to size each other up and tear each other down. It is left to us to identify what this place looks like, what goes on there, and whether it is building us up or tearing us down. Because the truth is it is contributing to our mindset, strengthening or depleting our ‘can do power’ and affecting the mode in which we think and operate.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible talks about how ‘iron sharpens iron.’ This is indeed true. Are you going places where you come out sharper? Are you surrounding yourself with people who make your discernment and decisions more precise? Are you surrounded by people who cut you down? Are you stuck in an environment that makes you feel like bigger things are unattainable? If you are the smartest and most ambitious person in the room then you are in the wrong room! You need to go to places where you are inspired, intimidated, educated, and leave feeling elated. Ultimately we must strike a balance between protecting ourselves and stretching ourselves towards further growth.
It is important to first accept that our environment does affect us. No one is impenetrable, and eventually our thoughts, our words and our minds will begin to reflect what we let in consciously or otherwise. We cannot be surrounded on all sides by mediocrity, lack, negativity and lack of self control and expect to conduct our lives any differently. Eventually our own standards will drop, our output will change and our thinking will be altered to the point where we might not even realise it.
Have you ever worked in a building where a pipe burst and an offensive smell permeated the whole office? For the first few days it would drive you crazy. You would spray extra air freshener or perfume in your own space, rush into the shower at the end of every workday and be overly conscious of the offensive smell. Eventually however you would not even be able to smell it anymore. It would cling to your skin and your clothes. You would think the stink problem had been dealt with, but in reality you would just have adjusted to it because you stayed put and acclimatised. It is the same thing with submerging ourselves in an environment that just is not right for our growth and development.
So please – be careful little legs where you go and be careful little feet where you stay. Where you step foot and settle down has the power to leave footprints all over your thoughts, words, plans and deeds. And ultimately it will determine how tall you stand, how your dreams stand the test of time, what truth you stand in and what you stand for.