There’s a great phrase I used to hear from my mother in high school — when it was surprisingly poignant — that time equals intimacy. I have found that to be true with people, but it seems to have a greater reach than just relationships in the form of influence.

If COVID-19 and the ensuing polarity in our communities tells me anything, it’s that there is influence, it is strong, and it comes from all corners of life. It is largely of our own choosing where we get it, but I think it can be hard to remember that time equals influence too.

The growing demographic of influencers in online media gives me pause for thought. The videos we watch, articles we read, all the media we ingest, and ideas we digest and talk about are influencing all the ways we look at life and live it. I’m not even talking about where we are actually looking for people or information to speak into our values — I’m talking about where we aren’t looking for them.

I had to point my gaze inward to honestly address this, and the result is painful to admit. Just recently I disagreed with a distant friend on a hot-button topic in a fairly public arena, and while the result of it was basically that we don’t agree, it brought up so many emotions for me that I was horrible to my family all day. Touchy, cranky, impatient, brooding, curt. It was awful.

I realized from this experience that I was heavily (and negatively) influenced during this interaction, and that influence spilled out into my day and on my people in the form of my attitude and behavior.

The same thing happens when I read news articles about horrible things happening over which I have no control and can affect no change.

My conclusion is that I must be aware that even engaging in a discussion or argument without considering the emotional consequences can compromise my ability to live my life well. That, and I need to be honest with myself about my feelings before I engage so that I spend that emotion in places that are both safe and healthy for them.

It was a good learning experience that I’m sorry my family had to pay for.

I would say that in the current climate this has become even more clear to me and strengthened my resolve to be the influence I want to have. I want to choose more carefully the things that influence my decisions so that I have more control over the reverberation my family feels.

One of my daughters has lots of feelings in this phase of life, and the other day we sat down and talked about all the things that impact how we feel and act. She feels even the nuanced changes in my mood as much as I do, it seems like. Talk about reverberation — it’s like an echo chamber in my house sometimes.

Much of our discussion revolved around how we can manage our feelings when something has influenced them and we feel out of control. Most importantly, we must face the truth that what affects us goes on to affect those around us.

Community is like that, isn’t it? Starting with those who live in our homes with us, our choices have tangible effects on those in our circles. Maybe the effects are gentler in the outer spheres of our lives — work, church, social circles both in person and online. Or perhaps those reverberations are just as strong as at home.

In any case, as my mother used to say to me all the time: you have so many people watching to see what you’ll do. As humans, of course, this is natural; the primary mode of learning is watching and imitating those around us from the earliest moments of our lives.

My children imitate me, and so if I choose to let in messages and influences that bring out the worst in me, that is what they will emulate.

I choose how I spend my time, and if time equals influence, I need to think carefully about both what I let in and what that might mean for what comes out of me.

Adrienne is a Catholic homeschooling mom with five young children and a mission to raise leaders.

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