Throughout my youth, I attended a lot of firesides. I admit, I don’t recall everything, but one talk that has always stuck with me. One of my leaders, who was previously an Air Force pilot, shared his experience with hypoxia—the lack of oxygen to a person’s body, which impacts their brain.
The leader explained that Air Force pilots are at risk of becoming hypoxic, so they undergo training where they are exposed to it. In one training session, he was instructed to take his oxygen mask off and then to put it back on when he felt himself becoming hypoxic. But he never put his mask back on—his friends had to do it for him.
After the training, his friends explained that they watched him suffer all the signs of hypoxia—bad decision-making, incoherent speech, and confusion. He said he hadn’t felt any of those symptoms and thought he had been acting normal, even though his friends could see that he was in danger.
Sometimes in life, we may find ourselves heading down the wrong path without not always recognizing that what we’re doing isn’t right. We may make bad decisions, act differently, and be completely confused with life—just like hypoxia. The path toward eternal life is a path you can easily stray from if everyone around you isn’t committed to it too (see 1 Nephi 8:23, 28; 3 Nephi 14:13–14). This is when having bad friends can be harmful to your already-hypoxic state. Of course, bad friends aren’t necessarily bad people—I’m talking about friends who won’t put your oxygen mask back on and who are even possibly the ones who could lead you into a state of spiritual danger.
Growing up in Australia, I’ve been exposed to a variety of friends, inside and outside the Church—some were not positive influences. I’ve experienced situations where I felt certain I could stay on the strait and narrow path, but because of the influence of a few bad friends, their actions became the norm for me and I started following them.
What helped me to come to my senses was listening to my parents and Church leaders. I knew they wanted the best for my life and that they could see better than I that I was falling into a state of spiritual hypoxia. I tried to always stand in holy places. I attended young adult activities and church. Even when I spent a lot of my time at university and work, I found good friends. I’ve made a lot of friends who aren’t members of the Church, but who choose the right and are great role models. For example, I met one of my greatest friends in high school. She was always striving to be a better person, and even though she isn’t a member, she helped me recognize when I wasn’t choosing the right path for myself. And that’s what a great friend does.
In Proverbs 13:20 it reads, “He that walketh with the wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” I completely agree—the friends that you surround yourself with the most are the people who you will ultimately follow. Just as I didn’t realize, you may not recognize when you’re becoming spiritually hypoxic and following the wrong path or the wrong people. It’s important to listen to those who love you and to put yourself in places that are going to invite both good people and the Spirit. When I did these things, I found myself surrounded by better friends every day—friends who support me in my righteous decisions.
No matter where you are in the world, you can find friends who will always put your oxygen mask back on when you struggle to do it yourself. You can find friends who can help you out of the spiritually hypoxic state you may find yourself in. Your friends have so much more of an impact in your life than you may think, so find companionship with those who are choosing the right. I did, and it changed me and my future forever.