Influence. Every day we encounter the effects of this term, but rarely do we take the time to fully examine its impact on ourselves and everyday actions. Influence, Merriam-Webster says, is “the power to change or affect someone or something: the power to cause changes without directly forcing them to happen.”
Our lives don’t happen in a vacuum; our decisions and lived day-to-day experiences are shaped by the world around us and the people and communities surrounding us.
It’s easy, of course, to examine the influences that our families have on us. Certain preferences, values and beliefs, as well as attitudes and mannerisms. We’ve all talked about “family genes” and hereditary traits and complained about not wanting to turn into our parents.
And yet, in some ways, many of us do simply that: not exactly, of course, but we pick up specific traits that have influenced us along the way. Perhaps it’s in our manner of speech, or a physical characteristic or habit. Perhaps it’s passed on in family traditions. Regardless, we can easily account for the ways in which our family has influenced our sense of identity.
What is, perhaps, not as easy is accounting for the influences of other factors. How has our faith, for example, changed us? How do we see our habits and decisions formed by the values and beliefs of Catholicism? Are our everyday actions reflections of our faith?
When we identify a person as a “prayerful” individual or someone as living out God’s message of service to others, we certainly attribute the influencing factor of our Catholic faith upon their lives.
More frequently, perhaps, we should begin to acknowledge the ways that our faith influences us. In doing so, we might begin to understand how our faith is forming us to become better people, to become more Christ-like. Perhaps, we could even use our faith-filled influences to counteract some of the more harmful or negative influences in our lives.
I recently attended a talk given by Michael Ondaatje, a Sri Lankan-born Canadian poet and novelist. Many know him as the author of “The English Patient,” the novel that inspired the film of the same name starring Ralph Fiennes.
As he discussed his craft, he talked specifically about the influences that have shaped his writing.
Using the metaphor of a solitary bookshelf, he could fill the shelves with the authors that have influenced the way he writes and how he sees the world. But also, alongside that bookshelf, he would include musicians – specifically jazz – and art as important mediums that have also shaped his craft and perspective.
Often, I think, we discuss the individuals or books or works of art that have made a specific impact on our lives. Perhaps we recollect those moments – a line from a book, the words of that individual, the image that was captured so perfectly – as significant or inspiring elements in later life.
But how frequently do we see those same moments as influential? In what way are we asked to change our lives, or our perspectives?
To truly be influenced by someone or something, the power to change needs to be present.
When is the last time your faith – perhaps the words of the Gospel – influenced your life and inspired you to take action and change? Are we listening closely to such influences, or are we simply letting them pass by unnoticed?
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.