You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Arnold Kling shares his thoughts on the saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with:

Right now, I don’t have five close friends.


My social friends and my intellectual friends would not get along with one another.


Typically, someone matters to me very intensely for a few years, but hardly at all apart from that. In the late 1990s, I talked with my main business partner several times a day. Now we communicate about once a year.


If I were to say that my intellectual life is an average of other people, I would list my father (a political science professor), Bernie Saffran (who was an economics professor at Swarthmore), and Russ Roberts. All three rank much higher in wisdom than their place in the academic hierarchy would indicate. All I would describe as much more open-minded, capable of lifelong learning, and able to change their mind more than typical academics. In general, I have found that people in business (such as Collison) are much more oriented toward learning than are academics. Many professors by age 30 have narrowed their intellectual world to a few peers that operate within their narrow sub-field. In business, you fail if you do that.


At all points in my life, the key people in my life have been very high in conscientiousness. Compared with others around them, they have been far more averse to recreational drugs or sexual adventures. You might accuse them of being inhibited. They are very conservative with personal finances and could live on much less than what they have. They would never allow career ambition to jeopardize family cohesion. They have a strong sense of agency – they would never celebrate victimhood. (In new-age jargon, they are “at cause” as opposed to “at effect.”)


  1. Harry Jones says:

    When I was young I had very little choice whom I associated with. Fortunately I had a natural resistance to peer pressure, or I’d have ended up in jail.

    As an adult, I choose the five people I spend the most time with. They don’t determine my nature. I determine whom they will be.

    I have a lot of appreciation for meetup sites. They help me find the sort of people I want to be around.

    I’ve known a handful of people who, were they much more plentiful, would give me reason to have faith in humanity. I cherish these few. I have never, ever, found an organization that was worthy of my trust. The ones that start out okay go bad after a while. The good people get fed up with a bad organization before I do and they move on. Then there’s no reason for me to stay, so I move on.

    (Loyalty is moral duct tape. It will hold broken things together for a while, but it doesn’t really fix the problem. People who value loyalty as a virtue are worshipers of shortsighted expediency. The Church of Red Green.)

    This is how bad people in control make it harder for good people to connect and maintain connections. But they can’t make it impossible. We just have to make more effort to cut the gatekeepers and organizers out of the loop.

  2. Kirk says:

    Yet another error in distinguishing correlation with causation by a member of our so-called “intellectual class”.

    The error here is in assuming that you’re a reflection of those you spend time around, rather than the obverse, that you spend time around people who reflect you and your behavior. It’s a cop-out–”I’m not responsible for who I am and what choices I make, those are due to the influence of others…”. No, sweetie–Those “others” are the people you chose to hang around with, and who let you do that “hanging around”.

    Of course, the people who make these claims are such weak-minded twits that they probably would be the sort to turn into deviant sociopathic rapists if they hung around deviant sociopathic rapists, so perhaps they can be forgiven for extrapolating their weakness of mind out into the general population…

    Western “civilization” is apparently such a crappy construct that such people can pass for members of its “intellectual class”. Thank God I never wasted the time trying to become a member of that weak-minded mass of poltroonery…

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