We are clearly influenced by people around us, our circle of friends and relatives. These folks impact our beliefs, our health, our careers and how we feel – some for better and some for worse. We live in interconnected networks and become like the people we spend time with. The number of theses connections we have affects the quality of our lives, influences our expectations, determines the sort of people we marry, where we live, our emotional maturity, and our health.

We often copy our friends and they give us permission to do things. If a friend has done something/bought something/been somewhere, then we are much more likely to also do it/buy it/go there. Not only that, we are influenced by our friends’ friends and surprisingly by our friends’ friends’ friends.

No one controls or owns the network that you and I are in.  It self-organizes and is complex, dynamic, and constantly evolving.  It has no central control point but rather a shared intelligence. Some people are on the edge of networks, others at the very heart of them. Some people have lots of connections within the network, others are more insular.

Emotions are a genetically inspired way of quickly spreading information that people pay attention to. Certain people are more susceptible than others and likewise, certain people are more influential than others.  Likewise in teams, emotions quickly spread – and when a team is happy, it has been shown that performance improves. Unhappy people tend to cluster with other unhappy people and vice versa.  Furthermore, unhappy people seem more peripheral in networks.

It is not just that happy people prefer the company of happy people, it’s that happy people make other people happy.  People with friends who have lots of friends are also more likely to be happy.

The closeness of happy people affects us.  When a friend living less than 1 mile away becomes happy, it can increase my chance of becoming happy. Consequently, the people I spend the most time with heavily influence my mood.   Likewise loneliness begets loneliness. Proximity to other lonely people also increases my tendency towards loneliness.

Networks can heavily affect our personal identity. The way people react to us either builds or weakens our self-valuation, confidence, and esteem. How we look also affects how we are treated.  Since we are heavily influenced by others, we dress in a way that our network will accept. We are mightily influenced by the norms of our society/group.  We unconsciously copy others to be part of that group. The more we relate to a group or want to be a part of it, the more influential their norms will be upon us.

The power of social compliance is often underestimated.  Comparisons to others are a key factor in determining contentment. Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once determined that many consumer demands stem not from innate need but more from social pressure.   Merely observing another person’s behavior (especially someone we admire) can be as influential as words.  Our best friends influence how we perceive our prospective partners attractiveness.

When people sit next to a person who is over-eating they will also tend to eat more.  An obese person has more friends, friends of friends and friends of friends’ friends who are obese than would be expected by chance.  If a mutual friend becomes obese, it nearly triples a person’s risk of becoming obese.  Groups such as weight watchers and alcoholics anonymous form powerful social networks of influence – it is the people not the techniques that drive success. An individual’s success story echoes throughout the network. This provides a positive reference experience of success, so building their own belief that success is also possible for them.

For networks and connections to be effective they also need ties into other networks – e.g. those people who have a number of different circles of friends/acquaintances are the critical connectors that allow information to flow between networks. Networks that are more insular are less equipped to solve novel problems than those networks with lots of interconnections with other networks.

The circles we live and work in are fundamental to the opportunities and quality of lives we get to lead so it is less about absolute ability as it is about the connections one has around you as they create the initial opportunities and levels of expectations.

Human social network behaviors are hard wired – its genetically conditioned.   Networks have been fundamental to the advancement of the human species. People who worked together were able to kill more prey and were able to protect each other against predators (human and animal). Thus the ‘connectors’ survived better than the loners.

The Internet has created multiple ways to connect and share.  We are now hyper connected, sharing large chunks of our daily lives with a wide group of friends – thus we know more about more people.

Will these social network relationships replace our deeper personal connections? Research suggests that like the advent of the phone, these technologies supplement the development of relationships rather than supplant them. The media often reports that intense use of the Internet increases the risk of alienation, isolation, depression, and withdrawal from society. In fact, available evidence shows that there is either no relationship or a positive cumulative relationship between the Internet use and the intensity of sociability. Overall, the more sociable people are, the more they use the Internet. And the more they use the Internet, the more they increase their sociability online and offline, their civic engagement, and the intensity of family and friendship relationships, in all cultures.

A new social structure has emerged from the interaction of a technological paradigm based on the digital revolution and some major sociocultural changes. A primary dimension of these changes is what has been labeled the rise of the Me-centered society, or, in sociological terms, individualism, the decline of community understood in terms of living space, work, family, and achievement in general. This is not the end of community, and not the end of place-based interaction, but there is a shift toward the reconstruction of social relationships, including strong cultural and personal ties that could be considered a form of community, on the basis of individual interests, values, and projects.

The process of individualism is not just a matter of cultural evolution, it is produced by the new forms of organizing economic activities, and social and political life. It is based on the transformation of places to live, work, and engage  in economic activity (networked work processes), culture and communication (shift from mass media to mass self-communication based on the Internet); on the crisis of the patriarchal family, with increasing autonomy of its individual members; the substitution of media politics for mass party politics; and globalization forging networks around the planet. The Internet has created the opportunity to connect up with people around the world who are interested in a very specific activities/interests (such as people with specific health issues but it can also be used for some less palatable groups such as self-harmers, anorexics, suicides and bomb makers). The connections with each other reinforce their belief system and legitimize their actions.

Internet use empowers people by increasing their feelings of security, personal freedom, and influence, all feelings that have a positive effect on happiness and personal well-being. the Internet does not isolate people, nor does it reduce their sociability; it actually increases sociability. 

Seven Attributes of Good Character

We all have areas in our personal, professional, and social lives where we have failed. It is hard to point the finger, as we all make mistakes, big and small. So, how do we improve? How can we do more of the right things and less of the wrong ones?

Who we are as a person is the total of everything we have learned as children, plus the choices we make and habits we develop as we grow older. The good news is that we can always learn to make better choices, we can choose to believe in better values, we can create better habits, we can continue to learn.  We will never attain a perfect state; we are humans, and we will continue to make mistakes and experience success and failure in every aspect of our lives. We learn lessons through our defeats. Failure motivates me to change. Ponder this: our most significant pain comes from mistakes we make; our greatest fears come from the consequences of our wrong choices; it follows that our greatest joy will come from doing the right things, and greater love will cast away our fears.

What we do and say reflects our values!   Values are beliefs that help empower our life and the quality of what we experience. How we act and behave in our everyday life, reflects our deep-seated convictions and beliefs. Live by your set of values, and do not compromise them was the advice given to me by my grandfather.

Character is what we are when we are all alone. It is what we do when there is no one around to impress. Reputation is what people think of us; character is who we know we are. The existence or lack of certain virtues will determine who we are.  I believe there are seven attributes of good character: fortitude, tolerance, compassion, patience, hope, faith, and love.

Fortitude is courage in the face of adversity. It is the means by which individuals have the emotional power or reserves to withstand and confront serious problems.   Our mistakes and failures provide us with the opportunity to develop a type of courage which is born of humility, rather than of bravado.                                            

Tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins differ from our own. It permits freedom from bigotry.

Compassion involves allowing me to be moved by suffering of others and experiencing the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it.  Often an individual goes out of their way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pains of another and themselves. Compassion involves sensitivity, another emotional aspect of suffering. It is often based on notions of fairness, justice, and interdependence, it is rational in nature, and most often based on sound judgment. 

Patience is the ability to endure difficult circumstances such as delay; or a provocation without responding in annoyance. It is forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can have before negativity. It is also used to refer to the trait of being steadfast.

Faith is confidence or trust in a person, thing, or concept. In the context of spiritual matters it is belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of a spiritual leader. For some, faith is confidence based on a perceived degree of justification, while others who are more skeptical view faith as belief without evidence.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world. Hope allows us to expect outcomes with confidence and to cherish a desire with anticipation. Hope is necessary to keep us focused on the goal because we are never in charge of outcomes, no matter the effort we put in.

Love is a feeling of strong attraction and emotional attachment. It  encompasses a range of strong and positive emotional and mental states, from the most sublime virtue or good habit, to the deepest personal affection and to the simplest pleasure The love of a mother for her child  differs from the love of her spouse, which differs from the love of food. But they are all love. Love for each other is the way to peace and serenity.

Why do I want to cultivate these seven attributes? Why am I concerned about the content of my character?  When I took a fearless look at myself through a rigorous inventory, I did not like who I had become.  I was not close to the “good” man I imagined myself to be.  My father-in-law, who I considered to be a weak man at one time, became my role model as he was the man I wanted to be..  I wanted the core ethical values of honesty and integrity, respecting others, taking responsibility for one’s actions, being fair and just, and being someone who promotes love and compassion in others. I wanted to be filled with humility, courage, justice, temperance, and the value of human dignity. My well-being—indeed my very existence—depends upon the content of my character.

These seven attributes were the necessary ingredients for me to become the new person I wanted to be, the rebirth of Michael. The first four of these character traits give me tools to deal with my own suffering as well as that of others. Keep moving forward despite my mistakes and shortcomings is the fundamental lesson I have found to have peace and serenity, which equates to a successful life. The last three are ways to proceed to freedom and joy. Trust yourself to do the right thing and joy will come your way.  Its joy that I am after. Happiness is too dependent upon transitory things and other people. Joy comes from faith, hope and love. Trust God knows what you need. He will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And love God and others with all your heart.