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I met a man in his 80s on the trail. He was by himself and going the opposite direction, so I asked him for some tips about what was coming up for me. I also was curious, so I asked him how he was still going so strong, as I was very impressed.

“If you want to keep doing what you love, it helps if you never stop,” he told me.

I recounted this online, and a man thereafter wrote to me, saying,

“Born and raised in Wyoming where I always enjoyed my outdoor activities. I no longer live there but I still spend as much time as possible taking in outdoor activities. Going on 82 and am still taking long distance fishing trips on horseback, on foot and by boat. Recently went ski diving twice in the same week. Keeping busy is what it is all about!” 

—Len Sostrom

This got me thinking about what “good apples” these people were. I wondered what I’d be like if I met or spent time with people who embodied the opposite of what these men did. The Bible claims that iron sharpens iron, just as bad company corrupts good morals. I know that when I meet hikers like this, I get much more pumped up. I get a fresh wind in my sails and my mind starts racing ahead to my next hike, instead of “ugh how many painful miles until the next place I can make camp?”  On the other hand, if I met mopey folks on the trail, I’d probably feel more run down.

Peggy and Hank, another couple of good apples—better than you, because they’ve endured hiking with me. In the far background is the area around Knapsack Col, Wyoming.

In his book, “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty,” Dr. Dan Ariely decided to see how a “bad apple” affects the whole bunch. Does it have any effect at all? He designed a test that surreptitiously measured cheating on a test. In one condition, cheating wasn’t possible. In another, cheating was possible, but you wouldn’t know if others were cheating. In a last test, you’d be aware that the first person cheated on the test and got away with it—the “bad apple” condition. 

As it turned out, people were 60% more likely to cheat if they were exposed to the “bad apple” condition than if they simply had the opportunity to cheat. Meanwhile, in separate tests, he found out that given each other little moral reminders (nudges) reduces our cheating. 

The moral of the story? Be careful of who you choose to be your “in-group,” and try to keep folks around who will give you those little nudges in the right ethical direction. I know that being around folks from Christ’s assembly up in Billings really helps me be a better person morally, and being around folks who encourage me to keep gettin’ after the mountains really helps me to sacrifice sleep in order to have a healthy weekend. 

With love, always,

My friendly signature.


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