Saturday, June 20, 2009

Post No. 123: Hanging Out with the “Right” Crowd

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Viewing the resume of a “successful” person, one might conclude they planned their life path with meticulous care. However, for most of us, the majority of our “choices” are influenced by others.

We all might consider taking less credit for our purported successes, and more blame for our failures. Most good which happens to us is situational and serendipitous in nature.

The Logistician used to tell the story of an argument he had. He felt that everyone knew that brushing one’s teeth promoted good dental health.

A friend countered that many were not aware of its importance. Over the years, he learned to be careful about making assumptions, and consequently judgments, about what people know (and their motivations).

He often noted that those fortunate enough to have someone share knowledge, open a door, or inspire us, have a tendency to think others are similarly blessed.

Last month, we spent time with a 15 yr old, whose Mom attended 2 top institutions. She has gone to great lengths to ensure he attends the most prestigious private school in the area. We’re not quite sure whether he fully appreciates her sacrifices.

Yet, he must have some sense of the value of that education. He encouraged an older Step-Brother to also attend the institution from which he recently graduated. The Step-Brother said his younger schoolmate’s encouragement was a turning point in his life.

In the same environment where we met the 15 yr old, we spent time with a 19 yr old and a 54 yr old. One of us pulled out some dental floss to dislodge a stubborn piece of food. The 19 yr old and 54 yr old simultaneously asked, “What’s that, and what is it used for?” We might have expected them to question the propriety of flossing in public, but not its function. It reminded us of the teeth brushing story.

Apart from positive influences others can have on your life, there are negative ones. Some are obvious. Others, as our current US President can attest, are not. Just think Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest work, Outliers, explores how one’s environment determines the probability of success. While Gladwell focuses on geographical and physical environments, our experience last week reminded us of the inter-personal factors.

We’ve come up with a list of things for students to consider. They should ensure their close circle of friends includes at least one person who is from, is, or has, the following:

1. A distant land. Make sure that one of your roommates is a Brazilian. Their light-hearted, non-materialistic approach to life will serve as a stark contrast to western values.

2. A station wagon. There will be times you’ll need to transport 22 inebriated bodies. One designated driver can more efficiently convey the group.

3. A wealthy family. You’ll probably get to see both the good and the bad associated with wealth.

4. A poor family. You’ll definitely get to see both the good and the bad associated with poverty.

5. A drug or alcohol problem. You’ll learn to appreciate the value of public embarrassment, and how using substances to an extreme, and without an appreciation of their effect, can be problematic. (Make sure this friend is not driving the station wagon.)

6. Been arrested for something which has been life altering (prior to you doing something foolish). There’s nothing quite like spending time in jail. It provides a whole new perspective on intimacy.

7. A beautiful woman. As the Laughingman once noted during a discussion about how to dramatically increase blog traffic, “Post pictures of Jessica Alba - Naked.” You’ll also learn to appreciate lots of other things about our national obsession with physical beauty.

8. A serious jock bound for the pros. There’s nothing quite like watching the Lakers a row or two behind Nicholson. You’ll also learn the dangers associated with everyone wanting to be with or around you, and treating you like a God, and as soon as they find out you’re not, how quickly they disappear.

9. An engineer or better yet, a physicist. Boring perhaps, but you’ll gain an understanding of most things physical in the universe. And truth be told, most things are about the physical.

10. An artist. They’ll open up a whole new world not taught in the classroom.

Two other points. If you plan to run for President of these “United” States, be sure not to associate with anyone whose future conduct may potentially come back to haunt you.

Finally, hang out with folks who encourage you how to think, not what to think.


  1. These points are well-stated. Wisdom is priceless! BTJ

  2. Thanks much for weighing in Neo. Good to hear from you again.

  3. Hmmmm... stereotyping Brazilians, are we? Not that many of them are not light-hearted and non-materialistic, of course.

    All else on your list, though I take exception to Pamela Anderson as an icon of beauty (there are many better choices), reveal wisdom in humor.

  4. The only thing I see wrong with your list is that you did not advise knowing well one Opinionated Old Broad. :) BB

  5. How about adding a few more to the list:

    A person of unshakable faith
    An atheist
    An agnostic

    Someone very young
    Someone very old

    A musician (but perhaps you feel that was covered by including an artist)

  6. I want to add An Excellent Student to the list.
    It's important to have a good role model up close and personal.

  7. These points are well-stated. Wisdom is priceless! BTJ

  8. Earlier today, a friend passed on a link to a New York Times piece entitled, What is College For? We thought it appropriate to share it with you.


"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™