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Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Impact of Friends

I'm not a very social person. This will come as a surprise to some who know me, and will be completely expected by the rest. I do consider myself to be an introvert, and have tested as such, even though I can be extremely extroverted when the situation calls for it. I'm also the kind of person who doesn't keep many long-term friends. I have no idea what any of my high school friends are doing or what has happened in their lives. Most of the friends I've had over the years have gone separate ways. Really, I only maintain contact with about 4-5 people out of all of the people I've known in my life, and of those, probably only 2-3 with any regularity. I'm enough of a loner that I just don't feel the need to have lots of people to hang out with, and generally prefer doing things on my own.

So it has come as a surprise to me in the last couple of days that I have enjoyed seeing old friends again. While at my veterinary conference my wife and I took the time to visit the church we used to attend when we lived in the Raleigh area. We moved away about 2 1/2 years ago and have only visited a few times since then. We showed up unexpectedly at an event they were holding, and it was really amazing to see how many people were excited to get to see us again. We didn't realize the impact we had had, and were a bit taken aback by everyone wanting to talk to us. Then today on our way home, we stopped and met with someone we know from Fans For Christ (see my links) for lunch. We had interacted with him online, and had hung out with him a bit at Dragon*Con (see my links once again), but this was the first time we had gotten together in a "normal" setting. It was really fun, and a pleasure to get to know him better.

All of this started me thinking (on our very long drive home) about how we impact people in our lives. You may not notice your interactions with others, but it's a sure bet that some of them notice. We all have effects on those around us, often without realizing it. Sometimes we don't get to see just how strong those effects are until years later. Each of us can think about someone we've known or even just briefly met who made an impression on us. Something they said or did, or who they are, or what they did for/to us really stuck in our memory. Years later, or even for the rest of our lives, we will be marked by our experience with them. The same holds true for people that we interact with. Sometimes it's humbling to realize this, especially when it happens without our knowing.

It can be a bit frightening as well, since we're not always at our best. The effects we have can be for good or for bad. Here are examples of each....My parents have a next-door neighbor who is a real problem in the neighborhood. The wife has caused numerous problems with other neighbors because of her attitude, including calling the city when leaves from a house across the street blew into her gutter during a windy period. She has alienated all of the neighbors, and has been very hateful. Her husband is a Baptist minister. Because of her attitude, my father has grown a dim and rather cynical view of people who profess to be very religious. Now, on the positive side, I was mentored by a veterinarian for most of my childhood, and though I haven't worked for him in about 12 years, hardly a week goes by without him coming to my mind. He gave me much advice and many examples that I use to this day.

We should think about these things as we go about our lives. We are going to interact with countless people, sometimes briefly, and others ongoing for a lifetime. We will have a chance to make a difference in their lives for better or for worse, often without even realizing it. So what kind of an impact will we have? What kind of a legacy will we leave? What can we do to affect people for their and our good? Think about your friends and acquaintances, and how you will both change them and be changed by them.