A Little Leaven

“I am convinced that the negative has power. It lives. And if you allow it to perch in your house, in your mind, in your life, it can take you over. So when the rude or cruel thing is said, I say, ‘Take it all out of my house!’ Those negative words climb into the woodwork and into the furniture, and the next thing you know they’ll be on my skin.”
—Maya Angelou

I can still remember what it felt like, shedding my uniform the moment I got home as if it were covered in filth, the hot tears rolling down my face, the lump in my throat as I choked out the words: “I just don’t like who I am anymore!”

I was twenty years old, working a job I loved with people I didn’t. My co-workers at the nursing home were sarcastic, nosey, impatient in their care, talked badly about each other and the residents, and complained all the time. And little by little, I found myself slipping into those same behaviors utterly against my will. I sometimes felt nearly possessed–completely powerless not to engage in acting that way, no matter how hard I tried to stop and even though I found my own behavior abhorrent.

It was the first time I’d ever experienced the principal Angelou talks about here–the one referenced numerous times throughout the bible admonishing us to be careful of the company we keep. Because it is a law just as reliable as the that of gravity: We become like those we spend our time with. Whether we want to or not.

Eventually, we begin to consider it normal. Sarcasm is “just how we talk” in our family. Gossip is “just what we do” with our friends. Criticism is “just how we motivate people.” Nasty, hateful, condescending remarks are “just how we cope.” But that experience, twenty-some years ago? It taught me a very valuable lesson about the power of influence: If a certain behavior is not a part of the character I want to build or who I want to be in this world, then I must limit my interaction with those who participate in that behavior. No matter who they are. No matter how much I love them.

Since that time, I have carefully guarded the energy I have allowed into my home and diligently limited my interactions with those who participate in behaviors I wish to see less of in my own life. I have even censored my facebook feed to keep from being bombarded with negative comments and sarcastic or condescending humor (this is especially difficult during election years!) But recently, I have been slipping in this area, and have found myself repeating those same words from so long ago:

“I don’t like who I am, anymore.”


It is a painful, but necessary, realization. And the steps to change this will be neither simple nor easy. But they are necessary.

“Energy is contagious. Either you affect people, or people infect you.”
– T. Harv Eker

There is no middle ground.

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