When I look back at my life, it’s always strange to think about who the people were that really helped shape me into the (very odd) person that I am today. Clearly, our parents have a big portion of the responsibility for making sure we don’t turn out to be serial killers. But what I’ve discovered is that the formative years aren’t really as young as most people think.
To me, the formative years are 18-22… right after parental influence begins to taper off. Yes, parents can influence behavior by example and authority, but will it stick? When a child reaches 18, they make their own choices, often very different from what they were taught by their parents.
I grew up very sheltered. I went to a tiny Christian school, went to church 4-5 times a week, and really didn’t have a circle of friends outside of those two places. I acted the way I acted and thought the way I thought because that’s all I’d ever been exposed to.
However, once I was outside of that little circle, when I started college and went to work, I realized that I wasn’t really firm on any of my thoughts or beliefs at all. It’s easy to act and think a certain way in a laboratory setting, but much different in the real world.
The first person to challenge me into thinking outside of that little box was a person at work. He was a nihilist, (a guy with 40 peircings and some very odd tatoos) yet one of the most well-read people I’ve ever met. He knew the Bible better than most of the Christians I’d ever met. We sat across from each other, and every day, he would bring up a topic… social, religious, political… and he would give me his opinion. I would tell him what I thought, but if I didn’t know what I was talking about, he always knew it and pointed it out. Over time, I got better and better at knowing what I was talking about, and he began to enjoy debating with me. Eventually, we got to the point where we would have a robust debate on a topic, and then we would switch sides and argue each other’s point of view.
You can all thank him for my site, because without that several year experience, I wouldn’t know how to write on these topics, nor would I know how to debate.
Another influence, coincidentally, was another guy from work. He referred to himself as the “Font Pope” (we worked in publishing). He was pretty much the opposite of the first guy. He was goofy, ridiculous, and quite confident. I was shy and afraid to talk to anyone, but his example helped show me how to get over my shyness and also contributed to my stupid sense of humor.
And of course, there were the girls. Girls can have quite an influence over an 18 year old guy. I met my first girlfriend my first semester at college. Although it’s a long story I won’t bore you with again, things were always fairly bad. But it’s amazing how much confidence you can gain by having someone of the opposite sex take interest in you. I learned that love isn’t like it is on TV. You can go read previous entries on that if you care to.
My friend Traci, who I’ve talked about before, was an influence on me when I was that age. She was kind to me… never treated me like I was a nerd or a loser (even though I was and everyone else I knew treated me that way). She even brought me home-cooked lunches while I was taking too many hours of class. She taught me that you can be genuine and kind, but at the same time, not let anyone take advantage of your kindness. Before her, I thought that to be kind, I had to let people trample all over me. After many years of being unable to feel anything, good or bad, at her funeral I realized that I still had a functional set of tear ducts. In a horribly strange way, it felt good to know that I wasn’t completely bitter and cynical.
A lot of people have interacted with me and treated me as I was at that moment. However, it’s the people who treated me as the person they believed I could be that really had the most profound influence on me.
It makes me want to see the best in the people I meet….