Beyond the narrow borders of friendship is the vast territory of acquaintanceship. Friends must be few, but acquaintances will probably be very many - innumerable. We elect our friends, but our acquaintances come to us in a thousand ways. Our friends are chosen with care, but our companions by mere chance: and that precisely is our danger. A friend to whom we open our whole soul, who knows us through and through, and from whom we conscientiously keep back no reserves, is obviously a person whose influence over us must be considerable. We know each other so well and are so frank with each other that the evil of one must almost necessarily tarnish the other's soul, as the good of one must refine the other. The need, therefore, to be careful in our choice is so plain, so natural, that choice will be made very deliberately. We take infinite pains about it and require a good deal of assurance before we really give ourselves into another's hands. But we are apt to forget that really something very similar is happening even with our mere acquaintances namely, an appreciable influence on our lives; yet how careless we are about those with whom we mix! Of course, certain comrades are forced upon us by our neighbourhood, by our work, by our relationships: certain people in life we can hardly with decency avoid. But there are numbers of others who have no call or claim upon us and into whose company we let ourselves slide.
There may be no harm in them, but the point is that we make no effort to see whether there is harm or no. And yet how often our sins come from our company! Our friends we cannot always be with; from our company we can never escape. Our friend is tethered to his place of business, to his home, to his several duties; but our acquaintances are with us all the day. At our business while we work they are beside us; we listen to their language, to their views of life expounded without reticence or modification. We stroll out to lunch between whiles and are once again, as every week-day, with the same set, in the midst of the same ideas, bathed in the same flood of jest and anecdote and latest social happenings. Does it not seem as though friendship itself (unless it be loyally and unswervingly guarded) would be out- voted in our lives by the circle of our acquaintances? What chance has it or has anything against the persistent, unescapable influence of our company? the endless tales (not quite the kind of thing that becomes a Christian), the gross conversation (coarse and vulgar perhaps rather than evil), the uncharitable gossip, the latest ugly rumour, the jealousy, the rivalry in dress and outward living, the small untruths to make ourselves appear just more important than we are, the first-hand information which is really not quite first-hand, all the mean and petty devices and subterfuges into which we find ourselves forced by our comrades. Is not companionship the cause of very much that is evil?
I come, therefore, to this point - namely, that the influence of my company is very considerable, and, secondly, that most of my company is chosen purely at haphazard. Now it is obvious that some of my acquaintances I cannot avoid. What can I do about these? Be prepared. I know more or less when I am likely to meet them; I know also in what way I am likely to be influenced by their conduct or conversation. I know from experience just where temptation to agree or accept or propose comes to me, and in what particular matter the temptation lies. Very well, then, even if I cannot escape them, I can be on my guard. I can make my ejaculations for help, courage, light, to see what is right and to say or do it, fearlessly, uncowed, unashamed. There may be a materialistic view to be refused, if not refuted; a disloyalty to faith to be denounced, at least in silence. To be forewarned is to be fore-armed. And when social conventions and the stress of work are satisfied, do I still cling to them, even when I have found their company to influence me and not for good? do I still seek their presence by sheer haphazard? Am I careful enough in selecting my company? for I cannot but admit the subtle moulding influence they must have on me, modifying my views, refining or coarsening my ideals, accustoming my ears and finally my tongue to language and jest and anecdote. Let me look at those with whom I choose, day after day, to have my meals, my work, my amusements. How far in their company do I defend justice and truth and my friends?
- text taken from by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.