The Company We Keep

Kumar was a well-recognized worker in his organisation – diligent, honest, and well-organized. He was transferred to a new location where he moved into a rented dwelling with Satish, a fellow worker. Satish, though hard-working, was always complaining about people and situations. A few months into co-residency, Kumar became irritable and distrustful. Still performing at his job, he was no longer satisfied with what he was delivering. This personal transformation left Kumar befuddled and depressed.

Jyoti is a working woman who appreciated her hired cook Suman for enabling her to dispense her professional responsibilities and follow the calling in her life. A few months back, Jyoti’s in-laws moved in with them. They are ambivalent about Jyoti’s status as a working woman; to their relatives, they boast about having an educated and employed daughter-in-law, but at home they constantly crib about the quality of food prepared by the cook. Now, Jyoti also berates Suman often, picking faults with her cleanliness and food preparations. She is planning to cut Suman’s salary, having carefully calculated her working hours against the prevailing wage rate in their colony.

Samta joined a well-known organisation a couple of months back, with high hopes and enthusiasm. She loves the meaningful work she does and is happy in her small, close-knit team. Samta’s work is being appreciated by senior functionaries in the organisation. Recently, Samta has noticed a change in the behaviour of her reporting officer who constantly speaks ill of the organisation and has more recently predicted that the organisation will down its shutters soon. Samta’s anxiety levels have gone up and she is wondering if she made a mistake by joining this organisation.

These are real stories and only names have been changed to protect identities. Do we relate to any of these characters or situations?

Human beings are governed by the law of relatedness. Being in the company of others is not just about fun – it is about our inherent instinct of self-expression. What do we seek and/or derive from being in the company of others? Re-affirmations, self-esteem, self-confidence, physical and psychological safety, self-improvement, critical feedback, professional links and ladders, tangible information as well as gossip (harmless or otherwise), and anticipatory material support, to list a few.

Do we ever reflect on our company and its influence on us and vice versa? Why is deliberating on the theme of company important? Consistent bombardment of beliefs, ideas, perspectives and information of a certain kind has the potential to change a person fundamentally. We become a reflection of the company we keep, whether we are conscious of this or not. And my effort here is to goad us to convert the unconscious into conscious. [It is the ‘consistent and repeated’ company that we go back to frequently, online or physically, which is the focus here, and not one-off meetings and conversations.]

We are generally quite defensive and possessive about the company we keep (and sometimes, secretive too). We may not appreciate an ‘outsider’ dissecting the ‘what and why’ of it. Hence, it will be better to approach this matter with the perspective that each one of us is also ‘somebody’s company’. The re-positioning done, we can use some of the following thoughts to reflect on our conduct and contributions when we are providing company to others (whom we may call ‘the companied’).

Decision-making Influence: We contribute to the information base of the companied. If we are the supplier of mis-information or mal-information, we court responsibility for the bad decisions that the companied take, at least in the short term, if not in their lives.  We are part of the decision-making ecosystem of the companied, whether we realize it or not, and contribute to a number of their learned behaviors.

Mirroring of Emotions and Values: The concept of emotional contagion that Dr. Laurie Santos talks about in her class on the Science of Wellbeing (on Coursera) is also relevant here. Ergo, regulating one’s anxieties and maintaining composure, being mindful of our emotional cues, and effusing positive emotions become important. Treating the companied as one’s emotional sinks is also a form of violence, in my view.

There is a lot of super-imposition of attitudes and value systems ongoing, as we journey together with the companied. I have been an outside observer and on a couple of occasions, an active participant in groups where either gratitude or pettiness, hope or negativity, openness or dogmatic attitude, and courageous honesty or cheeky manipulation ‘habit up’ the members of groups who engage in regular conversations, as co-workers or co-habitants. One person seeds a thought and provides her/his perspective, and based on her/his position in the cohort, access to data-ammunition, and a dogged defense of a particular position, the companied come under varying degrees of influence. In some cases resonance is achieved. The companied may slide along an attitudinal scale or adopt or tweak their values-framework, influenced by our company.

Layering of Interests and Strengths: Shared interests often provide a resilient foundation for people to spend quality time together. We can add and receive value when in such company and contribute to each other’s growth. At the same time, diversifying to a company different from oneself, in interests, professional background, sociocultural milieu and age, can substantially increase the slope of one’s curves of learning and contributions, enhancing our appreciation, empathy, understanding and accommodation of diversity. [It is possible to practice a more deliberate company-seeking, guided by what one lacks or with the aim to build on our lesser character strengths.]

With time, as the companied begin to think and behave like us, it is only a matter of time that they become like us (or vice versa).

The Take away: For our own sake and for those we influence (knowingly or otherwise) through our company , we have to do inner work and be in control of our consciousness. This can enable us to have a positive influence, offer useful and sometimes life-changing guidance, insights, and perspectives, helping people become the best versions of themselves.

At the same time, we have a responsibility towards ourselves too. By deliberate seeking or happenstance, there is a constant churning of our contacts (more so in this age of ICT-enabled social networking). Given a choice, we gravitate towards a certain kind of company. So, we should choose our circle wisely. When it is not in our control (e.g., at a work place or due to a change in personal or living conditions), gatekeep the thoughts well, practicing good emotional hygiene to prevent what I call the Mowgali-zation of our consciousness.

With the horses of our senses reined in, we will be able to fare forward in virtuous company, wherever we are!

Published by Bharati

I am a simple, happy person. My life is enriched by family, friends, co-workers, and other co-travelers who have helped me see through a rather difficult childhood, a self-obsessed youth, and the dreamy thirties, till reality hit in the forties. As I inch closer to my first half-century in this life, my belief in 'Love always finding a way' stands strengthened. Experimentations around "common consciousness" continue, my search for meaning aided by reading, writing, drawing, listening, observing, and relating.

2 thoughts on “The Company We Keep

  1. Very interesting thoughts about the influence of the “companying” on the “companied” and the constant exchanging of their roles. Agree with the view that using the companied as emotional sinks is a form of violence.

    A thought which comes to mind is: with
    frequent changes nowadays in one’s company, how much of the influence of a company is retained and what factors lead to the strength of retention?


    1. Thank you. And interesting question too. Yes, mobility and the replacement of physical with digital presence has transformed but not eliminated traditional company. The self expression one does on social media, for example, amplifies and remains suspended in diverse channels, bringing affirmations and influence. Then there is the info bubble created as we “follow” some and not others on social media – it is a company we choose in some way. Influence of familial company has dwindled, to some extent, though.


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