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I’m currently reading Stephen Covey’s, The Third Alternative, and I have been reminded of a third alternative I explained to my own parents when I was in middle school.  It is a bit ego-boosting to see Mr. Covey advocates the same, or similar, ideas.

Growing up, I was constantly warned about, “bad influences”. I was told to stay away from and not be, well, influenced by them.  As any other child, adolescent, pre-teen, and many teenagers would do, I heard it, expected not to need the advice (because I was smarter than that) and didn’t question it.  But sometime in middle school, 7th grade or so, I got a crazy idea… What if I became a GOOD influence on those who were otherwise considered “bad influences”?  What if, my influence was stronger than theirs?

It was!  I had made good friends, best friends even, with a peer I will refer to as Don. Don had a reputation at our middle school as a typical bad-ass.  Teachers couldn’t get him to perform, he was quick to fight if provoked, and was put on a special monitoring program for academics and discipline.  I was sort of a nerd.  But we made friends.  I would act out on occasion based on my desire to be as cool as him, but nothing of any concern.  On the other hand, for our assigned reading in class, I convinced the teacher to allow Don and I to sit in the hall and read aloud to each other.  At first he didn’t seem to comfortable reading in front of me.  However, it didn’t take long before Don was reading on his own, and quite well, to include great comprehension.  We continued to build a great friendship.  By the end of that school year, he was off the monitoring program, and ON the honor roll.  He was always smart with incredible drive and determination. He could live up to whatever title he was given.  I like to think I gave him a different title to live up to, and he did so amazingly…and in contrast to the title the teachers and possibly some of his other friends gave him.

I had another friend, “Mark”, that was notorious for doing things that weren’t the smartest, but more the sort of activity described as “acting out”.  On one occasion, he stole two pagers/beepers from a house a mutual friend was baby sitting at.  A couple other friends and I wanted to see Mark do better, and our goal was to convince him it was more cool to just “do what you are supposed to do”.  We convinced him that we would accompany him to return the pagers to the house (the owners aware they were missing) in an anonymous envelope with an apology letter.  As we turned the corner to the house, we saw a group of parents in front of it… They were expecting our friend Mark – to confront him.  They did not know we had convinced him to take the pagers back.  They saw us and ran at us.  We did what any scared middle school kids would do – turned and ran.  We made it 2 blocks and into the park before the first parent made it to the corned they saw us on.  They caught us, and chaos ensued.  My other friend Kent had the pagers, and he started taking accusations.  Mark was tackled and fighting with one of the parents. The cops were on the way… And we were all trying to get out the story of how we were trying to return the pagers.  We also had to explain how we planned on being a good influence on our friend Mark…much to the dismay and disbelief of the group of parents and police officers.

The event landed Mark on house arrest.  We kept to our guns, and after pleading with my own parents and convincing them of our plan to be a good influence on Mark, we were allowed to visit him.  His Probation Officer of all people was a fan of our plan.  Mark did well after, and as long as we were around, he enjoyed having good influence and people who believed in him, around him.  I can’t tell you were he is now, but all of us have gone or own ways.

There will always be “bad influences”… I ask that we all take a moment to realize those bad influences are more often than not, great opportunities waiting to be unlocked.  Don’t just isolate the “bad” but do something about it.  Sometimes we all need a nudge and a nod when being reminded of – doing what we are supposed to do.

Posted from my Droid RAZR

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One Comment

  1. I mentioned this in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, but I also wanted to post here.

    I am currently reading “Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell (Great book!) and I came across a passage that almost directly supports my theory described in “Changing the Paradigm of Bad Influence”. I got immediately excited when I read it, in a way that I felt my intuition was being validated by a source I consider greatly reliable.

    In the Chapter “Context (Part one)” P. 168-169
    “Judith Harris has convincingly argued that peer influence and community influence are more important than family influence in determining how children turn out. Studies of juvenile delinquency and high school drop-out rates, for example, demonstrate that a child is better off in a good neighborhood and troubled family than he or she is in a troubled neighborhood and a good family.”

    A clearly more educated and supported statement, and I think it fits.


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