Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Be careful who you hang with

Homer’s Coffee House hosts an open mike jam session every Monday night during the summer. This is a time designed to promote community and give new or first-time performers a chance to play. At the same time it gives more established performers an opportunity to play songs that they might not normally do.

We just go around the circle and give everybody a chance to play and sing. The variety of people who show up each Monday is amazing. It is not unusual to have a person who has never sung in public before do a number followed by professional rock and roller singing a country or folk song. We never know what is going to happen.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Some nights everybody sounds great, and other nights, it seems, everybody is struggling just to stay in tune. The reason, I believe, is that we are greatly influenced by those around us. If there are two or three people in a row who are having a hard time carrying a tune, the next person up, even if they are an experienced musician, is likely to struggle to stay on pitch. Conversely, a few good musicians elevate the whole group to do better.

I think this principle applies to other areas of life as well. If we surround ourselves with quality people, we are likely to perform better ourselves. The opposite is also true. If those around us are goof-offs and low-achievers, our own expectations are soon going to be diminished. This does not mean that we should totally avoid people we think are somehow “inferior,” but it does mean that we need to choose our friends wisely. It means that we need to be in a positive work environment if we want to accomplish great things.

Years ago, I played music with a guy whose favorite saying was, “Dumb is contagious.” Turns out that he was restating what the book of Proverbs says when it cautions us to not be companions of fools, but rather associate ourselves with people who will help us learn and grow.