It was 1976, the first day of my junior year in high school and my first day at a new school. My mom was dropping me off in front of the school and just as I am about to shut the door my mom hits me with one of her old sayings, “you are who your friends are.” She was waiting for me to respond but I was now a junior in high school and I was hip to her game. That’s what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to ask what are you talking about so she could give me one of her little mini-lectures. I wasn’t going to bite. I shouted, “love you mom” and headed toward the school.
Unfortunately her words kept floating around in my head all day long. That’s the way all of the best old sayings are they stick in your head whether you want them to or not. This one was a doozy. Eventually I decided this old saying meant I would have the same reputation as the friends I decide to hang out with, and therefore, at least in the minds of other people I would be the same as the people I hung out with. Thinking I had it worked out I told my mom and she said I had part of it right and then she explained that not only will you have the same reputation as your friends but in most cases you will make the same choices.
This is of course the kind of old people saying that young people hate. Young people want to believe they can run with any group they want but maintain their separate identity and more importantly make their own decisions. I didn’t care much for this saying and my mother had other sayings that were also designed it seemed to limit my freedom to associate with other people. Have you ever heard someone say “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.” Again, according to my mother’s way of thinking this means if there is one bad person in my peer group that could destroy all of us. Man that is harsh stuff and hard for a teenager to accept. My school was teaching tolerance and saying treat everyone the same, don’t be prejudice but my mama was saying “guard your heart.” That one she drug straight out of the Bible, now that is really getting old school.
This really is one of the more difficult things we have to learn in life. Freedom of association is after all enshrined in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights and some of these old sayings have been used as a means of maintaining inappropriate class or racial barriers. On the other hand birds of a feather do in deed flock together. Deciding who to be friends with is not easy and sometimes we are not in a position to pick our friends. Sometimes events seem to conspire to place us together with other people.
I think all of these sayings serve to remind us that we are responsible for making positive decisions about our associations. We can be tolerant and open minded but we must also learn to say no and when to get up and leave. Not easy for an adult and perhaps impossible for a teen. The best we can probably hope for is to make our children stop and think about what they are doing and make deliberate and thoughtful decisions about whom they associate and under what circumstances.
Proverbs 4:23 says, “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”