The World Around You

'Show me your friends and I'll show you who you are' A classic proverb that has been sung through the ages on repeat. How does it hold up in 2024? I am a big fan of statistics, especially books that use statistics to debunk social norms. The author, Malcolm Gladwell, writer of infamous books like Outliers & Blink, is such an artiste in this niche of writing. More on him later. We are a sum of the 5 people we spend most time with. We often hear people say - 'If 5 of your friends are millionaires, you are the sixth. If 5 of your friends are drug addicts, you are the sixth' - and other stories. We can do it practically. Who do you spend most time with? If it's your colleagues, and they prefer coffee over clubbing, chances are you are the next person to join their coffee cult. Are they fitness gurus who love hitting the gym? Slowly, you will be inculcated into the gospel of weight lifting or cardio. Amongst other nuances that make the list too long, our immediate surroundings affect our world view and even some of our behaviors. Let us get back to Malcolm Gladwell and take an example from his book, 'What The Dog Saw'. This book offers insights on the variety of perspectives. What works and what doesn't work. Can an advantage be a disadvantage and vice versa? It also speaks on how surroundings affect the status of individuals. From school classrooms to your local neighborhood. For this topic, I need you to keep an open mind. How well you maintain your surroundings tells a lot about you as an individual. Are you obsessed with keeping your room clean and spotless? Your are probably a control freak, a perfectionist or you value your hygiene and orderliness. What about a room with clothes on the ceiling and plates under the bed? Probably a person who can't manage himself/herself, are care-free or too dis-organized to find time to clean your room. It could mean a plethora of things. Let's have a look at crime-infested neighborhoods. Your next door neighbor is a drug dealer. His kids are corner boys who peddle the parent's product. The house across the street has had multiple gender based violence accusations. On top of that, you can't go a week without hearing multiple gunshots. And you, the new people on the block are a tight knit family with a good upbringing. In fact the only gun you ever saw was in the movies. Let's call this neighbor Componia. On the other end of the map, you have Suburbia. Gated community, green lawns with short, well-kempt grass. Butter-smooth roads with kids riding bikes all day long. The only guns around are with the security guards at the main gate. The cheapest car in Suburbia costs more than a middle class house. However, you, the new neighbors, are a dysfunctional family. Mother and father can't get along, constantly fighting, with 3 kids who worry their parents might abandon them. All of you living off an inheritance. You have 2 situations, a good family in a bad neighborhood (Componia) and a bad family in a good neighborhood (Suburbia). Which family would you rather be? With the knowledge of how your surroundings influence an individual, we can do some analysis. The kids from the family in Componia may have a good upbringing, however, they spend at least 10 hours a day with crime riddled children. Children who have known murder to be the order of the day and drug dealing to be the only method of survival. Over time the influence from their friends far outweighs the influence of the family as a result of more time being spent with unruly agemates. The kids from Suburbia might be afraid of going back home at the end of the day just to get a tongue lashing from the parents or to bear witness to their parents being at each others necks. However, since they are in a good neighborhood, the next door neighbor, who on occasion hears the cries of the children in the dark of night offers a place of solace. Now the 3 children know of a place with warmth that they can run to whenever and be greeted with open arms. Unlike Componia where the only way to survive was crime, Suburbia offers alternative avenues like caring neighbors to walk with the individuals of the story. I am not advocating for families to be dysfunctional or to live in crime-ridden neighborhoods. We should strive to provide not only our families, but also our colleagues, employees and partners with a conducive enough environment to be perform at their very best. However, I am a realist, not an idealist. It is humanly impossible to achieve perfection. With the knowledge of the effects of a person's surroundings, we may not be necessarily be the easiest people to work with but a good office, a good home, a good neighborhood, a good school offsets our deficiencies. So to answer the question: Which is better: a bad family in a good neighborhood or a good family in a bad neighborhood? It is often said that it takes a village to raise a man/woman. It is the combined effort of a community to bring up responsible individuals. One family cannot do it alone With this, I'll leave you to do your fair share of the research. Call it a food for thought until the next topic.


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