“Before the start of summer every year, under my grandfather’s guide, I would clean, grease, and check over the whole machine to make sure it would run smoothly for the upcoming hay season. I learned to observe multiple moving parts in this old machine, such as the timing of the metal arm which was responsible for tying and cutting the twine to hold the hay bale together, or the heavy flywheel that spins building up momentum. After years of elbow grease and numerous repairs, I can now identify where any problem is just by listening to the old machine run…Working with this old machine has taught me how important it is to observe and listen first to understand a problem, instead of jumping straight in with my own opinion of what’s wrong. I noticed how I started to stop and listen more and more in every aspect of my life, in the classroom, at work, or even talking to peers. This listening and learning has led me to a better understanding of the way things work. I have always believed that all people have a unique purpose in the makeup of humanity. Just like the hay baler’s part in the overall farm operation, humans have a role in society. No matter the demographic or identity, when a problem arises they want to be heard. Without understanding and communication there can be no progress. Every person holds a different perspective on life; this is what makes each one of us unique. We are not built to be exactly the same and these small differences remind me of all the individual parts of the baler.” James Haden
I love this story that James shared with me as a part of his college application. I wonder if his grandfather is aware of the influence and impact he had on James’ life. As grandparents, parents, teachers, coaches and other adults in young people’s lives, intentionally or not, we have a significant influence on the young people we are blessed to share the journey with. And of course it is not just from adult to child. Regardless, our words and actions that have been influenced by others inevitably influence others we then encounter.
This dual existence of influence is an important dynamic to ponder. My faith, family, friends are all in my sphere of influence. As life has moved on, and more specifically as the world has felt ever increasingly divided, I have pushed myself to widen my circle beyond like-minded people. Additionally, I have become much more aware of the influence I may hold, and particularly the importance of the responsibility that comes with it.
The reality is attempts are being made to influence our thinking and behaving all the time. With all forms of media as tools of choice, businesses, non profits, political parties and religious communities spend billions of dollars attempting to sway us in a certain direction. Again, the impact is on us but also those we influence. That is why on both sides of the influence coin it’s critical to employ a high level of discernment and critical thinking. Passing on, “This is the best air fryer ever,” when in fact we have not actually tried said air fryer but only read this claim, is tantamount to gossip.
Recently I was able to spend time with theologian and colleague Brian McLaren musing on authoritarianism when he suggested that influence can be manipulative and controlling or it can be helpful and inspiring. I have personally found this filter to be very helpful. Is what is being suggested true, factual, important or urgent? Likewise, is what I am suggesting to others something that I have brought my own framing and critical thinking to? Is it consistent with my faith, morals, ethics? And will it be helpful or am I merely regurgitating what someone else shared with me?
One of the things I appreciated most about James’ story is how he thoughtfully took the influence of his grandfather, and integrated his own thinking which impacted his influence on others. He demonstrates that in the healthy cycle of influence it can be both inspiring and transformational.
Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer