In Critique of Influence

“I thought this person was my friend, but I have learned that he is not. He has hurt me and betrayed me. He has lied to me, mistreated me, and failed to deliver on his promises to me. In conclusion, he is a terrible influence upon me. I shall sever ties with him and cut him from my life. That solves that!”

Does it, though? Does the removal of this man from your immediate sphere obviate his influence upon you, as well? The people in the world I will never meet outnumber by billions those whom I will, yet a momentary glance at these pages suggests that the former wield a much more powerful influence upon me. Familiarity and influence are not synonymous, much less interchangeable, and any contrary assertion mistakes the influence for the person—an embarrassing error. How could it be that the influence and the person are one and the same? Influence is an effect, an external effect unto someone who is not the source of this influence. To say that I am my influence is to say that I am the influence and the influenced simultaneously! The serpent devouring its own tail, even as the tail devours the serpent!

This is a primitive error, the error of government: “We will remove the murderer from society. So ends the influence of his crime of killing!” Such reactionaryism misunderstands not only the nature of the relationship between influence and actor, but the nature of the influence itself. Unwarranted emphasis is placed on incidental symptoms of the influence, while the ethereal influence is ignored, if not unknown. Superficiality is both motivation and distortion, and just as government promotes a superficial approach to all things in life, so are those who seek an authoritarian governance over their own lives guided by a relentless obsession with surface.

Your frustration with your friend furnishes the proof. You are entirely justified in your dislike: as you say, your friend hurt you, betrayed you, and deceived you, so of course he has failed to retain your friendship. However, I’m not sure what any of this has to do with his influence, as you put it, nor do I understand how he exerts this dastardly influence upon you, and upon you, specifically. When he hurt you, did that inspire you to hurt others, likewise when he betrayed and lied to you? “Of course not!” Then what is the influence of his actions? Clearly, he inspired unhappy feelings in you, but if you do not inspire these feelings in others in response to his poor conduct, then what is the scope of this influence?

Even if you were to mimic his distasteful behavior, the right question would be why you sought in him a role model. Are you incapable of setting your own example, of following your own lead? Do you want someone to lead you, as if on a tether, and are you unhappy with him not because he yoked you, but because he yoked you as he preferred, as opposed to how you wished? In other words, you want to be the tether, but you are too embarrassed to reduce yourself to an accessory or intermediary object, and so, you want your friend to conceal your own shame—but surely you are capable of accomplishing this private act yourself?

Perhaps when we condemn someone as “a bad influence”, we are unhappy with him for revealing our own weaknesses, whether they be a lurid susceptibility (the propensity to mimicry) or a self-effacing submission (including not our only fear of ourselves, but our failure to defend ourselves from his aggression). Influence is the successful overcoming or conquering of something, meaning that the superior strength prevails. To fault “influence” for performing its definitive function, for doing what it inevitably must do, is to demand ignorance of our own limitations, to avoid until the end of days an understanding of what we really are. In making such a churlish demand of influence, we are ordering influence to reverse itself and to shield us from other influences, to act as an anti-influence.

So, by all means: if your friend injures you, then remove him from your life as an unnecessary menace. But when closing the door, do not exacerbate your own dishonesty by denouncing him for his “influence”, for to do so is only to denounce yourself.

3 thoughts on “In Critique of Influence

  1. Besides being a heartbreakingly truthful description of your own experience, this open letter captures the empty banality of most institutional education . Some students sense that they are being lied to at every turn. Sadly, most do not care or even notice. Thanks for this letter.


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