The Value of Knowing Awful People

“Surround yourself with people you want to be like.”

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

This is all fine advice. I’ve found it to be true in my own experience. But like all advice, it has its counterpart.

As good as it is to have admirable, wonderful people in your life, it’s valuable to have at least one person to remind you of everything you don’t want to be.

It’s inevitable that you’ll be stuck with such a person (and God have mercy on them, truly – they aren’t doomed and they are worthy of grace) in some area of life, whether it’s school or work or extended family. But you don’t have to despair if you are. This is a tremendous growth opportunity.

It’s one thing to say that you don’t want to be cruel, petty, cowardly, bigoted, indecisive, or lazy. It’s another thing to see those traits (and their consequences) embodied in front of you every day.

Hopefully this person shares many characteristics with you. They must be believable as the understudy for Evil You / Failed You. If they are, they can mirror back to you your own worst failings and weaknesses in their own.

Pay attention to this person and see the costs they bear for their behavior. If you can’t move past loathing, then use that loathing to motivate yourself to be better. Nothing motivates like fear of becoming that which you most despise.

Always remember that:

“There, but for the grace of God, go I”

and never assume that you are immune from the same weakness which failed your brother or sister in front of you. By all means try to help them (if they seem willing and able to change).

But even if you are hopelessly stuck with a person corrupted by too many bad decisions, remember that you can learn something. A concrete negative example is a priceless teacher as you drive toward what you *do* want to be.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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