Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part II

19 Sep

Last week, in Part I of our series on peer pressure, we examined the story of Cain and Abel. We discussed the potentially deadly effects of wrongly blaming others for the pressure we feel to conform. And we considered the importance of recognizing the true source of our inner conflict. This week, we’ll take our examination a bit further as we begin to explore what the Bible has to say about remedying this conflict!

In Jeremiah 4:14,18, God admonishes Israel saying, “Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, That you may be saved. How long will your wicked thoughts Lodge within you? …This is your evil. How bitter! How it has touched your heart!” The Apostle James enquires, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18) The moral? Bitterness destroys. And the bitterness which arises from the pressure we feel internally, is often worse than the bitterness which comes from being pushed into bad behavior.

A friend of mine has experienced this bitterness first hand. For a short while, early in her career, she was employed as a member of a maintenance crew. A majority of her co-workers came from rougher backgrounds and profanity was, for all intents and purposes, simply an unquestioned part of their culture. None of them harassed her about her own language, yet it wasn’t long before she began to feel the awkward certainty that she didn’t fit. After some careful thought and introspection, she decided that a few strategically placed words and phrases would remedy her discomfort. And they did… but only for a time.

She soon recognized that she felt just as guilty having violated her code of conduct as she had felt awkward about failing to fit in. As for her coworkers? It turned out that they really didn’t care whether she swore or not. They hadn’t considered her less a member of the group for holding her tongue. And they didn’t consider her more a member now that she inserted a few carefully chosen expletives into her dialogue. The pressure to conform wasn’t coming from them. It was coming from her.

Sadly, this type of “peer pressure” is more common than we’d like to admit. While those around us may not be actively pushing us to do the same things that they do, the constant awareness that we are different can result in our noticing the difference. We find ourselves feeling pressured… even when we aren’t.

Being able to determine when the pressure you feel actually comes from within rather than without is an important skill, since “perceived pressure” needs to be dealt with differently than the “active” or “enforced” pressure that we often associate with bullying. Indeed, the best way to handle “perceived pressure” is not to address the issue head-on with others (it’s not really their fault that we’re feeling uncomfortable to begin with), but to recognize and deal with our own insecurities. We’ll tackle that topic next week, but for now, why not share some of your own experiences with “perceived pressure” in the comment box below!

Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part I

12 Sep

The workplace is full of pressures. Among these is one which you’ve probably already encountered in school, on your sports team, or maybe even at church; it’s called “peer pressure” and, believe it or not, it doesn’t end with High School. The push to conform is always there. While adults may cover up their desire to fit in more skillfully than your average teenager, they’re not usually any less likely to conform (or pressure others to conform) than they were in High School. If you want to avoid crumpling like aluminum foil the first time someone suggests that “different” is “wrong”, you need to start building some muscle. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the topic of peer pressure. We’ll examine where it comes from, how to avoid it, and how to stand strong when you can’t.

This week, we’re taking a look at what I like to call “perceived pressure”. While we tend to think of peer pressure as being something which is intentionally inflicted upon us, this is often far from the case. Many of the pressures that we encounter (both in the workplace and everywhere else) actually come from within ourselves. They are the result of our reaction to the external world, rather than the world’s reaction to us. You might say that they are “perceived” rather than “enforced.”

We see an excellent example of the effects of this type of “perceived pressure” in the story of Cain and Abel. According to the Bible, Cain, the eldest of the two brothers, was a farmer, making his living from the ground he tilled while Abel was an able keeper of flocks. (Yes, that awful pun was intended.) While God’s Word doesn’t give us many details concerning the circumstances which led up to the incident recounted here, we do know that both brothers decided to present a sacrifice to the Lord. And that’s where the trouble (at least the bit that’s important to us) began.

Abel brought of the best of his flock while Cain brought a sampling of his crop. Much to the elder brother’s surprise, God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. When Cain grew angry about the matter, God was quick to point out the young man’s error asking, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 3:7)

Given the Biblical account, it’s more than a little bit likely that Cain was seeking the best of both worlds. He wanted a relationship with God (or at least to appease His wrath) while at the same time keeping the best of his produce for himself. Doubtless, he felt the pressure induced by his brother’s success. Unfortunately, he didn’t recognize that this form of peer pressure was ultimately the result of his inner conflict.

Instead of endeavoring to restore his relationship with God, Cain pinned all of his discomfort on his brother. And, when opportunity permitted, he was quick to remove the perceived source of that discomfort.

Sad story? Yes, but the truth is that while most of us wouldn’t go as far as actually killing those whom we perceive as pressuring us, that doesn’t stop us from viewing them with disdain or even hatred at times. These attitudes are oft times no less damaging than the physical aggression of Cain. “Perceived pressure” not only creates unbridgeable rifts in our relationships with others but, in allowing us to blame those around us for our own inner conflict, it delays the satisfactory resolution of that conflict. (To be continued…)

 

Work Ethic: Big Picture Thinking

5 Sep

In Luke 11:24-26, Jesus tells the following parable: “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ “And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. “Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” While workplace irritations aren’t “unclean spirits,” the analogy still holds – if you want your frustrations to quit multiplying, you need to make a concentrated and deliberate effort to replace them as the focus of your thoughts.

So exactly how do you do this? According to Lamentations 3:22-23, “The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning…” The truth is, no matter how difficult our coworkers, how obnoxious our customers, or how infuriating our boss, there is still something to be thankful for (even if it is just the reality that when all is said and done, we get to go home). As followers of Christ, it becomes our mission to find that something and then consciously praise God for it!

Of course, this isn’t always easy… especially if we’ve already developed a habit of seeing the negative. In cases like these, there are a few things that can be done to help alter our perspective:

1. Pray. Begin by letting God know you’re sorry for focusing on the negative. Then, let Him know that you need His help to find the positive.

2. Make a list. Set aside time each day to list at least ten positive things that happened at work. (This may require more effort on some days than others, but that effort helps us learn to see the little blessings as well as the big ones.)

3. Stop the process. Each time you find yourself dwelling on the negative, take a moment to find two positive things to thank God for.

4. Find a partner. Recruit someone with whom you can share your positive workplace experiences and will hold you accountable to look for the good.

5. Don’t give up. For some of us, seeing the good when we’re surrounded by muck just isn’t our gift. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

Think of finding the positive things in the workplace as a treasure hunt: not all of the prizes will be obvious at first glance and we’re not going to find the best ones if we only focus in on that little weedy bed on the sidelines! Get up, move around, and start looking! Pretty soon you’ll be thanking God for the pennies you find in the parking lot, the new heater installed in the break room, not having to clean the bathroom, or the temperature being half a degree warmer today than it was yesterday! And what about all of those workplace mountains? Well, they were just molehills anyway.

 

Work Ethic: Cultivating Perspective through Community

29 Aug

Hebrews 4:15 tells us that, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.” That means that there isn’t anything happening to us at our jobs that Christ didn’t experience, Himself. Consider this: Jesus went through His adult life without a home, exposed to heat and to cold, abandoned by His friends, falsely accused by His enemies, and left to clean up a mess He didn’t make in the first place! (And you thought it was a pain having to mop up in the produce department!) The only One who was ever truly alone in any experience was Christ when He bore our sins on the cross.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us that, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” All of us have had difficulty seeing the “big picture” at some point in our lives and, in many ways, that’s what makes Christian fellowship so important – yes, I do mean church. When we take the time to associate with other Believers, we gain the added perspective of those who live outside of our own situation as well as the faithful support of those who have been there before.

According to the Apostle Paul, “…there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-26) When you make church and/or Sunday School and/or Youth Group a priority you’ll be tapping one of the most potent aids for “big picture thinking” with which God has provided us. Sometimes just knowing that you have the love and support of others is enough to give you the perspective that you’re lacking.

The ultimate in “big picture thinking,” however, requires us not only to let go of our struggles, but also to make a conscious effort to recognize our blessings. This goes beyond taking time to develop relationships with those who share your experience and can help guide and encourage you as you navigate the rough spots. We’ll take a look at this type of thinking next week, but for now, feel free to share about some ways that Christian fellowship has impacted your own perspective on trials in the workplace!

Work Ethic: Character and Perspective Part II

22 Aug

In 1 Peter 5:6-10, the Apostle admonishes his hearers to, “…humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” Titus 2:12b,13 confirms this concept, commanding that, “We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.” Our momentary trials are nothing when we look at God’s Big Picture.

As difficult as it seems at times, we know that everything that comes into our lives does so for a purpose. And nothing which touches our lives does so without God’s permission. In Genesis 31:7, Jacob confessed to Rachel that, “…your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me.” While God’s idea of what doesn’t cause permanent harm doesn’t always match our own, God does promise that He will never allow us to encounter anything that He isn’t going to pull us through… and that includes serving under a difficult boss.

Instead of focusing on how frustrating the situation is, we’re better off asking God to explain the lesson that He’s trying to teach us or the character trait that He’s trying to develop in us. After all, character is like muscle: it can only be built under stress!

Romans 5:3-5a tells us that, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us…” We have the same assurance as Job that, “…he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10 NIV) The truth is, no matter how mean, erratic, or volatile your boss may be, you won’t always be in his grip. Jacob (the hero of our story) realized this and we need to as well.

There’s more to a cheerful attitude, however, than just keeping our focus on the “big picture.” Face it, sometimes, no matter how hard we try, that universal view simply eludes us. In times like this, when all we can see is how absolutely miserable we are, we need to realize that we aren’t alone.

We’ll take a look at some ways to remind ourselves of this next week. Meanwhile, feel free to share some ways in which a Godly perspective on trials has positively influenced your workplace experience in the comment box below!

 

Work Ethic: Character and Perspective Part I

15 Aug

“Work Ethic”. You’ve probably heard the term before. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation… the principles of conduct governing an individual.” In other words, you may say, “A day’s work for a day’s pay,” but if you slack off every time the boss isn’t watching it will quickly become clear that this isn’t your ethic.

A good work ethic is more than words; it’s a character trait. Who you are when no one is looking matters. Setting the dictionary aside, you might define a good work ethic as, “Knowing what is right and doing it, even when you don’t feel like it.” Since you’re probably used to doing this with at least a few things in your every-day life (like taking out the trash, finishing an assignment for school or work, or paying your utility bill), it shouldn’t be hard to transfer the principle over to your paying job. At least, theoretically.

You see, a good work ethic isn’t just about our action, but about our attitudes. The question isn’t just, “Do you take out the trash each week,” but “Do you take out the trash without grumbling and complaining.” Most of us will recall that in Colossians 3:23 we are told to, “Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” This command is easy to remember and act upon when your work environment is a pleasant one, but much less so when the task or the person(s) for whom you are performing it are not.

While our attitudes govern our actions, it is our perspective which governs our attitudes. The result is that forming a proper perspective is the ultimate key to a good work ethic. The Apostle Paul recognized this, declaring in Philippians 4:12,13 that, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” He understood that contentment in his line of work was not the result of an individual situation, but of how he viewed that situation. And this godly perspective gave him the ability to perform at his best even in the worst of circumstances.

We see this particular perspective prominently displayed in the story of Jacob. According to Genesis 29:20, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” While Laban’s goal was to use Jacob for his own personal gain, Jacob was able to see past this own frustration by focusing on his own long-term goal and not on his immediate situation.

You might call this “big-picture thinking.” It’s what happens when you recognize important factors like that work is only a small portion of your life and that it doesn’t have to influence you any further than the revolving doors leading into the parking lot. Like LasVegas, whatever happens here stays here… if you let it. And that requires a conscious, committed decision. (To be continued…)

Work Ethic: An Introduction

8 Aug

One of my favorite summer activities was always the neighborhood water fight. During the hottest days of August, my friends and I would turn the entire street into a war zone. Like two armies, we’d advance against each other, sheltering between cars or trees, all in an attempt to make certain that the other side ended up wetter than we were. All of this was fun until, almost inevitably, some track star would show up with a super squirt gun that could unload fifteen gallons of water in four seconds from a distance of half a mile. You couldn’t get near him without getting rain in your face. And trying to out-strategize the quickly moving target with water in your eyes was nearly impossible. The result was the complete demoralization of just about everyone who encountered this “Moron of Mayhem.”

It didn’t take me long to discover that these sort of people continue to exist long after High School and that, thanks to their “leadership ability,” many of them find their way into positions of workplace authority. They still delight in presenting people with a moving target, constantly changing job requirements and operation standards, often without any warning. The biggest difference here, however, is that instead of a squirt gun, they have authority over paychecks, work schedules, days off, and generally anything and everything you do for the 4-8 hours that you’re in their domain.

Sadly, escaping the clutches or such people is often easier said than done. The labor market doesn’t always work in our favor and it isn’t uncommon to find oneself unable to find another job with a less controlling or irrational boss. If this is your situation, take heart. Many others have been there before.

Perhaps one of the earliest examples of this particular type of employer/employee relationship can be found in Genesis 29-31. After stealing Esau’s blessing, Jacob ran off to stay with his mother’s relatives while things cooled down back at home. No sooner had he arrived in Rebecca’s homeland than his attention was captured by the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her name was Rachel and she just happened to be his uncle’s daughter. After some negotiation, Jacob agreed to tend Laban’s flocks for him if he would only give her to him as his wife and, for the next seven years, Jacob busted his tail making his uncle rich. When the time was up, the wedding went through only for Jacob to discover the next morning that it was Rachel’s sister Leah who was lying in bed with him! Clearly, he had been cheated.

Not wanting to cause too much strife within the clan, Laban agreed that if Jacob would work another seven years, he would give him Rachel for his wife, as well. Reluctantly, Jacob agreed, but it quickly became clear that the “bride swap” was not the end of his uncle’s conniving schemes. During the years that followed, his uncle tried to cheat him again and again, attempting to diminish his wages no less than ten times! To say that the situation was infuriating is an understatement. It was unbearable!

So how did he make it through his commitment without his brain frying? The answer is: a positive work ethic. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at what it means to have a good work ethic… and why it matters when we find ourselves in less than favorable employment situations. Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

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