Who Influences You?
It takes a village…
This is the start of a well-known adage, an adage that underscores how we are shaped by the people around us.
A big part of who we are – how we think, how we act, our values, our attitudes, our prejudices, our biases, and our belief systems – have been and are being shaped by the influences we have had.
From our families and communities to our experiences and what we read or learn, everything we come in contact with leaves a mark, whether it be a fleeting impression or a lasting influence through our lives.
We live in an age of influencers, with technology connecting us to each other in ways that are intimate and intrusive at the same time. It is easy to be swayed while watching the news, reading a book, listening to a podcast, or looking at Youtube videos. Every day, we are bombarded with information from people, and every day, we give them access to our lives, to a point where they influence our thoughts, our behaviors, and our habits.
We are heavily influenced by the things around us. That’s why it’s particularly important to ensure that the influences which we surround ourselves with as women are strong, healthy, and positive influences that help us become the best versions of ourselves. We need people who open our eyes, who expands our horizons, who are able to show us how to survive and to thrive.
For us women, our earliest influence are the women in our families and this experience is priceless. It is the foundation of who we are, the core upon which we build ourselves as individuals. Mothers have the strongest influence on their children, particularly their daughters. We share with our mothers more than just a genetic legacy – we share with them a past and a future, a lifetime wherein they become the anchor of everything we know in this world and everything we need to be to thrive.
If young girls are lucky enough to have a large extended loving family, they have a bigger pool of women models to look up to. Aunts, grandmothers, cousins, and soon, they themselves become an influence to the younger generation, passing on a heritage of learned experiences and experiences. These lasting influences from our parents and families allow us to internalize values and develop the capacity for healthy connections and relationships.
The community we grow up in likewise has an effect on how we view ourselves and the world. For many of us, our communities are our first foray into a world beyond the walls of our family room, and the environment within it provides not only a sense of belonging and identity, but also builds up the strength of our characters and personalities.
But for women to truly grow, we need to look beyond our families and our communities. The viewpoint inside our homes with people whom we have known all our lives is very narrow and skewed. We need to be open to all experiences, and not be limited to the familiar but strive to be exposed to different things, even those that we do not agree on. Because when we lock ourselves up in our own bubble of perception and reality, there is no check and balance. We run the risk of becoming bigoted and close-minded, qualities that never bode well for the inclusivity and equality we are fighting for all women.
We need to learn to strengthen our influences but at the same time, also learn how to listen and look at the other side of the fence. To learn, to be aware. To step into someone else’s shoes, to embody their viewpoint is a great way to practice empathy and patience. And our world today could use more empathy and patience.
When it comes to influence, and the question of who influences whom, it is a give and take. We are shaped and influenced by the world, and at the same time, we also give back to shape and influence the world, contributing the measure of our lives, all its richness, its bounty, its wealth of knowledge and experience that is unique and personal, for others to learn and take inspiration.
Taking the Initiative
Women need to take the initiative to look for positive influences in their lives. We need to surround ourselves the people and the things that we need to be better, stronger, and more confident. From the people we choose to let into our lives, the books we read, the films we watch to the causes that we take up, and to the leaders and role-models that we follow and support.
And it is here that we realize the importance of representation, and what it means and can do for women all over the world. All across the board, representation matters. Women need to be seen and heard, not only for themselves, but for the millions of young women who need to look up to someone who shares their joys and their pains. That’s why sharing our stories, making ourselves heard, opening ourselves to the world is important and essential.
But even as we build bridges, we also need to learn how to build our walls. When we give ourselves to the world – to influence and to be influenced – we make ourselves vulnerable. Unfortunately, our world is not perfect, and there will always be people, situations, and experiences that will empower and raise us up, and those that will hurt and make us doubt ourselves.
It’s the dichotomy of opening ourselves to others and at the same time, building enough walls to protect ourselves and keep negativity at bay. We need to be open but at the same time, we need to have boundaries to control the extent of how the world influences our thoughts and our actions and our behaviors so that we will not be puppets to the whims of others.
A strong sense of self is important, which means being secure in the knowledge of who we are, accepting the beauty and the flaws of ourselves, and being comfortable with the fact that we may never become perfect but we can always strive to be better. Rarely do we have the choice as to whom or what we are exposed to as children, but as we grow older, we have the choice of what we want to allow within our personal spheres.
Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. The same holds true when it comes to having knowledge and control over what we allow into our lives according to our personal needs and the goals that we have set for ourselves.
Finding ourselves is a lifelong exercise but the wonderful thing about being in a world where we are all connected, one way or another, is that we can find all the help we need from each other. Reaching out, finding a friend, a confidante, and a mentor, to help us envision who we want to be, and finding our own way with the support of sisters, fellow women who have walked the path before and have so much to share that will enrich our own journeys.