When I was a teen, a friend who was in his twenties frequently said “You become your environment.”
In other words, choose carefully those with whom you spend your time. For better or for worse, you will soon begin behaving like them.
I have found this to be true throughout my life, personally and professionally.
I learned early in my adult work life you cannot trust everyone with those things closest to your heart.
Every workplace has at least one.
Someone who, no matter the situation, turns it into a negative. Someone who will take whatever you say, or whatever they know about you, and share it with others, often not in its original form, and incomplete. But usually in a way that makes you look bad.
I learned to be discerning with whom and what I shared regarding my personal life.
Sadly, when you do begin to keep things to yourself, those who are prone to “talk,” will turn your private demeanor into something it is not. At which time the only option they have is to make up lies about you.
Workplace gossip – ANY gossip – is the lowest form of discourse, the lowest.
It serves only to make those who participate somehow feel better about themselves, even as they conveniently ignore the shadows they carry within, the shadows all of us carry within.
In reality, the consistent need to gossip is blatant insecurity.
Let’s be honest here: gossip destroys people’s lives. The lives of those who share it, and those about whom it is shared. It is a cancer that destroys the character of those who thrive on sharing in it and the reputation of those about whom it is shared.
And most of the time, the one(s) being gossiped about have no way of defending themselves.
Unfortunately, some people are so practiced at talking about other people’s lives, they don’t even realize the extent to which their words damage the lives of others.
Or they just don’t care.
Having been the subject of gossip over the years, I remind myself of this: “If they are talking about me to you, they will eventually talk about you with someone else.”
That is a fact.
Now, I am far from innocent in all of this.
The temptation to be a part of these kinds of conversations is strong, and often difficult for anyone to avoid, or to walk away from. I have succumbed many times to the temptation to make someone else’s life the subject of conversation.
I am not proud of it.
And I try to be as aware as possible when idle talk begins to go south and to shut my mouth. When I recognize my part in it, I resolve to begin again.
Saint James eloquently writes:
The tongue is…a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. (James 3:6)
This verse in the Christian Scriptures illustrates the reality that the tongue has destroyed lives for millennia.
It is nothing new.
But that does not mean it cannot and should not be controlled, through our recommitment to avoid it, but especially through prayer and the grace of God.
Those words my friend spoke decades ago echo through time: “you become your environment.”
You have the power to decide who you want to be and what you want your life to represent.
So choose your friends and associates wisely.
The more time you spend with them, the more likely you are to behave like them.
If you find yourself not liking who you are when you are around them, walk away.
Just walk away.
SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.