Friday, January 3, 2014

Magnets and the Power of Influence

A magnet attracts iron, yet has no effect whatsoever on wood.

As is my custom this time of year, I spent a little time cleaning files and straightening my office on New Year's Day, placing related items in manila folders, removing things to storage elsewhere in the house or garage. One folder that I came across carried the intriguing title Forces Invisible. It turned out to be about 'magnets and other invisible forces."

One sheet in the folder, typed using my old Olivetti around thirty years ago, carried this list of items regarding magnets:
1. stronger than we realize
2. not "visible" to five senses, yet real
3. powerless in some instance (wood), potent in others (iron)
4. operates by certain laws
5. once magnetized, not always magnetized
     intense heat of striking with hammer can break power

In many ways influences operate the same way. Years ago I heard someone say, "The two strongest influences on our lives are the people we meet and the books we read." In one sense, these are one and the same thing, for is it not true that when we read a book, we are meeting with another's mind, their thoughts, attitudes, opinions, feelings, beliefs?

This is the wonder of books. Though the Greek philosophers have been dead twenty-four centuries, their writings laid the groundwork for much of contemporary thought. Likewise a man like St. Augustine, Christian thinker originally stirred by Greek philosophy, was extremely influential in the direction of Western Civilization, even though he lived in an obscure period of history during the fall of the Roman Empire. Through memoirs, letters, essays and speeches, we can become acquainted with all kinds of people from all periods of history, including philosophers, musicians, pioneers and even presidents. And they influence us.

Early in the last century Andre Gide, Nobel Prize winning author, gave a series of lectures on influences. In his case he cited the manner in which places also can powerfully influence us. Hence we sometimes hear a call from a far country and we are drawn.

We have no choice over some influences. We don't choose our parents; nor do we choose the nation of our birth. Nevertheless, we do have the power to choose other influences, particularly the books we read, the friends we associate with, the places we choose to visit. The influences we choose reveal as much about who we are as they help mold what we shall become.

As you reflect on the people and experiences that touch your life today, which are the influences you have chosen and what do these things say about who you are and what you long to become? Keep in mind that you, too, have been an influence and will continue to be an influence. You only live once, so make it count.

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