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Choose Your Friends Wisely

As we learned in the last lesson, you can make a choice to be friends with someone even if you don't like them. But the opposite is also true. You can choose not to be friends with someone, even if you like them. And sometimes, that's exactly what you should do. Just ask Vijay Easwaran.

When Vijay was a young boy growing up in Chennai, India, his grandmother shared with him a piece of wisdom that will be familiar to most of you, regardless of where you grew up. She told him that if you put one rotting mango in a basket of good mangos, soon the entire lot will spoil. In the U.S. they say it is usually told with an apple. But, the message, of course, is the same.

Choose your friends wisely, because they have a significant influence on who you become. For a lot of children, that metaphor is where the discussion and learning ends. Without ever seeing how that might play out in someone's life, it's hard for a child to make the connection. Unfortunately, Vijay had an opportunity to see first-hand how one bad mango can completely ruin the life of another young boy in Chennai.

In the 7th grade, Vijay had a classmate named Bala. Vijay and Bala attended classes together and played Kabbadi, a wrestling sport. Vijay describes Bala as a happy-go-lucky sort. One that was always good at getting a laugh from the other students, and even the teachers. He got to school early every morning, would read quietly when he was supposed to, was a good student, generally obedient, and well-liked by most. Bala's father would come to school to have lunch with him once a week, making him the envy of many boys who weren't so lucky.

Then in the 10th grade, trouble moved in. A new boy from Bombay showed up at school, and he was a rule-breaker. He quickly developed a close following, and Bala was one of them. Soon all the boys adopted the bad behavior of their new group leader. They began skipping school regularly and were frequently caught smoking and drinking. "They were constantly in the principal's office for one thing or another," Vijay remembers.

But for some reason, Bala seemed to take the fall for most of their behavior, which he wore as a badge of honor. It almost certainly cemented his place in the group for the valuable service he provided. The slick kid from Bombay always seemed to get away without punishment. Bala was now one of these "cool kids" and had no more use for Dad's lunchtime visits.

In the 11th grade, this group's behavior continued to escalate. In one particularly memorable event, the boys allegedly hired call girls and took them to Bala's house when his parents were at work. When Bala's father unexpectedly came home mid-day, the entire group was caught in the act. For once the entire group felt the brunt of the punishment. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to curb their increasingly dangerous lifestyle.

Later that year, six of the boys decided to party on the beach, about 35 miles south of Chennai. As usual, they were all drinking – a lot. Then they decided to go for a swim in the ocean. All six went out. But only five came back, and Bala was not one of them. In his drunken state, he couldn't swim well enough for their depth. And in their drunken state, his friends were in no position to save him. Bala's barely recognizable body washed ashore a week later.

When word reached the school, Vijay immediately thought of his grandmother's mango story. This kid from Bombay had moved in and spoiled a whole group of good kids. And it cost Bala his life. It left a deep impression on Vijay. Twenty years later, Vijay has two children of his own, and he's taught them both the wisdom of the rotten mangos. And it seems to be working. At the age of seven, his daughter Kaveri came home and asked mom and dad if she could have a friend over to play. Without being asked, she had made a list of the qualities this little girl possessed that made her interested in having her as a friend, and presented the list to her parents:

"She listens to the teachers, works hard, is kind and polite, and prays to God." And his 5-year-old son Surya added "And she's always smiling. I like her too." Vijay was proud of the wise choice his children were making. And of course, they invited the young girl to play. Kaveri (and Surya) went to bed that night with the joy of having a new friend. And Vijay went to bed without having to worry about any rotten mangos in his children's basket of friends.

Okay, whenever you think your child is old enough to handle a story of this seriousness, share this story. Then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. Why do you think Bala liked the new boy from Bombay?

  2. Why do you think the other boys started acting badly when they became friends with the new boy?

  3. What qualities do you think your parents would want in the friends you choose?

  4. What qualities do you want in the friends you choose?

  5. Can you think of a situation where you might want to make friends with someone you don't like?

Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about being loyal to your friends, and what can happen if you're not.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith