Here is a personal exercise for you, an experiment of sorts that will reveal more about how impressionable you are than maybe you wish to know. It only takes a few easy steps. Tomorrow morning, as you plan to start your day normally, tune in the most vile, angry, obnoxious talk-radio personality you can find. Listen to him or her all the way to work or school, taking to heart every single word.
Once you are in the office or classroom, find the biggest jackass in your sphere of movement and work with him or her all day (I wish there was another word, but as a kid raised in a Deep South farming community, “jackass” is the only appropriate description). Soak up all of his or her negativity and pettiness, every single drop.
When you get home for the day, in an effort to vegetate with some mindless internet activity, wade into your Facebook or Twitter timeline and read the endless, bloviating opinions on politics, religion, or world events – and don’t just read – get furiously involved (You should be ready for a drink by now – or three to five). After a fitful night of sleep, you should immediately turn on the national news to absorb the full spectrum of anxiety, hatefulness, and disgust.
At that moment, with a pounding head and your teeth set on edge, you will see, feel, and know the influence of your surroundings. The human heart – your emotional, moral, and spiritual center – is just like a sponge. It will absorb whatever it is immersed in, so if you sit and soak in hostility or rancor, those are the exact characteristics that will shape you.
Likewise, when your inner being is pressured, just like a sponge, whatever is within you will come pouring out. At work. In traffic. Perusing through social media or watching the news. All you need is a squeeze, something our culture is more than happy to apply, and if it is in you it will come out of you. To borrow the computer programming lingo from the days of blinking amber and green cursers: G.I.G.O. “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”
So there’s no real mystery to how we can begin to become more healthy, compassionate, patient, loving people. We must surround ourselves with healthy, compassionate, patient, loving people and actions. In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
There is so much in this world that is ugly, dishonest, toxic, shameful, and empty. Cozy up with such poisonous things, or with such poisonous people, and all that external muck will seep its way inside. This world, and I’m not exaggerating in the least, will rob you of your soul if you allow it. Thus, the admonition of Proverbs is more apt than ever: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”