Essay

Who do you let influence you?

During the pandemic, rather than going to church my wife and I have been watching the online services of North Point Church in greater Atlanta. Preacher Andy Stanley is a remarkable teacher and we’ve enjoyed and learned from his sermons. This has hardly been as spiritually valuable as the full in-person church experience, but it’s been far better than nothing.

Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley preaches on topics that teach us how to “make better decisions and live with fewer regrets,” as he says. His sermons tend to be heavy on life application, supported by an occasional Bible verse.

Overall, Andy’s teachings pass my critical-thinking filter. Every now and again he teaches something that doesn’t add up for me, and so I discard it.

The more I’ve listened to Andy’s sermons, the more I understand his overall point of view, and the more it makes sense. The more it makes sense, the more it penetrates into my own thinking, and becomes part of my point of view.

This is true for all of us to some extent, even for the deepest critical thinkers among us. What we consume, we slowly become.

I think back on some of my influences as a young adult. I read all of the C. S. Lewis I could get my hands on. I read several books by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh to learn more about daily peace. I’m still glad for both of those good influences.

One influence that I fell into then that had lasting and unfortunate impact was the Church of Christ. In those days, most congregations in the Church of Christ were ultraconservative, legalistic, and deeply fundamentalist. I’m still cracking through some of the dreck that church implanted, and I’ve been gone from it since 2004.

I also used to let Rush Limbaugh influence me. I’ve always leaned conservative, and when his show was new it deeply appealed to young conservatives like me. But I couldn’t see yet that he was creating an us-them dynamic, making others out of “the Liberals,” effectively demonizing them. I may not agree with key Liberal positions, but that doesn’t make them demons. Rush influenced millions, leading the way toward the deep and destructive divisions our country faces today.

The point is, be careful what you let influence you. Guard your heart. Judge what is good and true and healthy, and leave behind anything that isn’t.

But the other side of this is, we have to let some things influence us. None of us is smart enough to figure everything out for ourselves, and no matter how much experience we have, the world keeps changing and our need to understand it does too. The things we let influence us can, if we choose them well, help us find our way.

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23 thoughts on “Who do you let influence you?

  1. This is an excellent question, and one that deservesmorethoughtthan Ihavetimeforat themoment. As an econ major in college I read the WSJ editorial page under Robert Bartley, as it was one of the few places that had a genuine understanding of the discipline and regularly featured top economists there, and not only those who the editors agreed with. Unfortunately, there has been less of that there recently. Rush was, to me, more of an occasional guilty pleasure than an influence.

    I think as we age we seek out those who make sense to us and avoid those who don’t.

  2. I suppose for me lately it’s been a fellow in Florida (I think) who goes by “Beau of the Fifth Column” on YouTube. To look at him, you’d completely misjudge his opinions and philosophy. I’ve found him to be of uncommon perspicacity, taking vague feelings I’ve only mulled over and bringing them into sharp, crystal clarity like when lenses slot in during an eye exam. I’ve found what he’s had to say challenging to some of my own preconceptions from time to time, and that’s half of why I tune in. Short, punchy little segment that rarely exceed five or six minutes and always start with the familiar “Well, howdy there, internet people, it’s Beau again…” and end with the conciliatory “Anyway, it’s just a thought; y’all have a good day.”

      • DougD says:

        I’ve been watching Beau videos for a couple of years, they’ve been helpful to understand what’s going on in the world.

        I just listened to the Andy Stanley and Crawford Loritts message, very interesting how carefully they had to tiptoe around “God’s not American” which seems pretty self evident to the rest of us. Read Luke 12, is it a border or the door to some rich guy’s barn?

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Tough question, and there’s an essay’s worth of information that could be written. I will say the following:

    When we are young, we invest emotion and focus in influences that are most likely NOT in our best interests, but in theirs. As late as my 40’s, I was still working through what I came to believe was psychological abuse by a well respected and “meteoric” boss I had early in my career. Took me a long time to ignore everything he believed in. When young, you are an open sponge. Beware…

    Religion is rarely anything but “self-serving”. I’m a “spiritualist” by experience, but was raised Catholic (even an altar boy!). I will say that the Jesuits that taught religion to me in the 60’s, were far more open, welcoming and reflective, than almost any of the “sect” religions I’ve become familiar with. The Jesuits viewpoint of morals, ethics, and focus on being “good” for your fellow man and community (regardless of your fellow man’s religious beliefs), is still an influence today. My experiences with talking with Pentecostals in Indiana was horrifying! Haters all! They always say: “hate the sin, not the sinner”, but no, they hate the sinner too, especially everyone that doesn’t agree with their tiny viewpoint. It’s one of the reasons I I favor the Asian religions. Knew a youth minister in Indy who said to me: “…there is absolutely nothing in the republican platform that Jesus would agree with.” Amen brother!

    When it comes to political figures, Milwaukee last socialist mayor, Frank Zeidler, is one of the most admirable people anyone could know. A person known as totally devoted to the need for government to be fiscally responsible, and morally and ethically above reproach. His viewpoint of the ethics associated with community is what we’re missing with the selfish and stupid response associated with half this country during the pandemic. Milwaukee’s “Sewer Socialists” were a golden era in city government. Google Sewer Socialists.

    The only media influences I have are to read and listen to the most accurate and correct information, and vetted by professionals. (That would NOT be any Fox station or right wing radio). Regardless of republican lies, that would be the New York Times, BBC-America, and NPR. Inaccurate “infotainment” right wing radio, as most media people know, is a construct based on the cancellation of the fairness doctrine in 1987, by a group of people appointed by Reagan and Nixon. I have to laugh, as even as a liberal, most of the things people tell me Rush Limbaugh said about the “liberal agenda”, I knew of no liberals that would back any of that, and in fact, were probably from weirdest and tiniest far left liberal outliers, if it wasn’t total lies! Our current situation with the anti-vaxxers, based mostly on right wing media inaccuracies, is a prime example.

    To wrap up, I actually have to say I fear adults than can be influenced by erroneous media, or news sources, and I am suspicions of people who seem so “needy” they are constantly looking for a guru to tell them what to think or do or constantly reinforce their beliefs. Once you’ve learned to critically think, have a healthy respect for morals and ethics, and been through a few ups and downs in your young life, the guru is inside you!

    • It’s true, I think, that when we are young we are sponges and can be manipulated by people we allow to influence us.

      But looking around, I see it happening with middle-age and older people too.

  4. tbm3fan says:

    Easy answer. No one, Not a talking mouth, not a politician, and definitely not religious. I know my way and what I need to believe in on my own. I am spiritual but more in the Native American sense. I can sit in Zion Canyon, like I did on Saturday, gaze up past the red cliffs at the blue sky over the river covered with trees with yellow leaves and say to myself what an amazingly beautiful world evolution created over hundreds of millions of years here. Then, unfortunately I had to think how mankind ruins such sites so I had to subdue that to continue my enjoyment of the moment.

  5. Always seems to come back to a question of balance. Yes, listen to other people and yes, make sure you take time to think for yourself. Unfortunately modern life and technology seem better at providing a torrent of input than at providing the time needed to process that input properly.

  6. Roger Meade says:

    I just tried a few comments by “Beau” and I’m hooked. Still, I pretty much agree with TBM3FAN- I look for nuggets where I find them. On one has a lock on truth and wisdom.

  7. I avoid anyone who wishes to influence me. My news and information come from a variety of sources and I avoid the ones that are too far in either direction, left or right.

    It is never lost on me how easily we can be swayed by the people in our lives, whether it be a controlling mother or a negative Nancy at the office. I’ve always been a loner and a free thinker but find myself increasingly withdrawing from people, keeping their opinions and world views at arm’s length.

    The jury is still out on whether this is healthy or not but I think I’m far happier than the average American.

      • I guess my on the job training as a newspaper editor taught me to trust no one and to believe nothing until I’ve studied it myself. Lol. I believe in facts and forming my own opinions rather than allowing others to tell me what to think. There’s a reason why I prefer empty churches to the ones that are filled with people and ministers. Jim! You should know by now that I’m an odd duck! :)

  8. A very pertinent post! “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.” I am very careful who I listen to, and I pray for wisdom. I see many older people, even my mother, watching propaganda which is disguised as preaching, I see people of all ages being sucked in by search engine and social algorithms which reinforce their view of the world, whatever it may be. Better to seek wisdom, which is never found in noise!

  9. Rick Bell says:

    I agree with the article that advice gets good when it gets to the point. ITim 6:20,21 talks about the empty speech some have. 2Tim 3:16 tells us all scriptures are inspired, so if we live our lives in accord with them we will please God.

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