A walk among men and a walk among rocks teach us the same thing: that a lack of motion is a powerful magnet for litter. Moss, insect remains, animal droppings, and foul spittle all accrue to the piece of rock that day after day will not move. But the moment it is set to flight, the moss is somehow dislodged from its skin, the insect remains scatter to the winds, the animal droppings are scrubbed away, and the spittle is shaken off in the bumpy ride down the valley. My experience is that our lives fare no differently. When we drift across the day with neither purpose nor direction, our lack of drive soon gathers about us legions of assorted friends most of whom prove good company as long as we live as loafers but scarcely make fair company at those times when we fix our gaze to the stars and must march to higher planes of existence. It is a great misfortune to have their poor quality belatedly brought into view at such inopportune moments when we seek to ride upwards on the wings of eagles but suddenly find that we were all along perched on the wings of a flightless ostrich. People of great ambition, therefore, must maintain a handy mechanism for sorting the soaring eagles among their friends from the earth-bound ostriches and the weeds from the seed.
What might be the trick by which we may conduct this sorting exercise? Well, the only way we have to tell the eagle from the ostrich among our friends is to develop a habit of openly declaring our goals before the world. For just as the up-and-down sweep of a winnowing tray separates golden wheat from clingy chaff, the up-and-down movement of the human tongue in speech that declares our will to the world winnows the unsorted masses of men around us so that the weeds among them are set apart from the seed, and the eagles from the ostriches. Many of us are aware of this winnowing effect of a declared will but scorn to take advantage of it because we think that the act of thinning the ranks of one’s friends is an act of suicide. To us, our unsorted friends are best left untouched because it is difficult to know which of them we might need and when we might need them.
Such a position is the result of a failure of judgment. The very idea that all the random people around us have identical chances of proving useful to us at some point in our lives betrays a lack of purpose. For it is to the aimless man that all men are equal; but to him with purpose, some men are seed and others weed. The aimless man is like the gardener who upon visiting his fields refused to declare which plants were weeds and which ones crops because he felt that science might soon discover a practical application for the weeds. So he had to care for both weeds and crops. The man with purpose, however, lost no time in pointing out the weeds and mowing them down. Consequently, he had to care only for the crops. When harvest time came, it was the man with purpose who had richer pickings from his fields.
The fear that a drive to a leaner mass of friends can someday render our stream of friendly support anaemic never turns out true because the very mechanism by which we sort the eagles among our friends from the ostriches guarantees that for each friend that we lose we shall win multiple admirers. Here is how this works out: All friends are won through personal contact, but admirers are generally won through their contact with our works. A focused declaration and pursuit of a goal reduces our scope for personal contact with people around us and so inevitably makes us lose many friends among them. However, that same unflinching focus of will and effort also enhances our prospects for success and so wins us admirers among those who later come into contact with our accomplished work. It is these admirers who though not personal friends we can yet rely upon to confer upon us the friendly support that we formerly depended upon the ostriches for.
That is how it comes to be that men who attain great heights in life always have few friends but many admirers, while those who ply the lower reaches of fortune often have many friends but scarcely an admirer in sight. Take the example of Christ. To his friends and enemies alike he was always candid about his beliefs and purpose in life. Among his apostles, this candidness drew to him eagles like St. Peter and drove away ostriches like Judas of Iscariot. On the wings of Peter the foundation of his church was laid, and in the one ostrich that he lost he won a congregation of billions at the cross.
Do you have a friend you would like to lose this year? Share this with them!
(Author-poet Agona Apell is the author of The Success Genome Unravelled: Turning men from rot to rock)