Enforced Pressure: Higher Stakes

17 Oct

While some peer pressure is the result of others seeking validation for their preferences and lifestyle choices, at other times, it can arise from more villainous motives. Throughout our lives, we repeatedly encounter those whose goal is to intentionally harass us into doing something that they know we believe to be wrong.

Whether it’s fudging a little on your time card (after all, five minutes now and then doesn’t really matter), taking home those nifty company pens (the store name is on them because they want it spread around), or telling a few off-color stories, the pressure to “conform” can be intense. If you want to counter this type of “enforced pressure” without compromising your faith, you must determine Who you serve before the pressure is on.

Why am I mentioning this principle for a second time? Quite simply because it’s an important one. I used to get a big laugh out of customers who would walk down an aisle, see me stocking shelves in my red company vest and ask, “Do you work here?” Mentally, I always found myself thinking, “No, I just randomly stock shelves wherever I shop,” or better yet, “No, this is just a hobby. I have uniforms for every store in town.” Of course I worked there! The very fact that I was stocking the store’s shelves made it (or should have made it) obvious.

Unfortunately, for many Christians, what seems glaringly obvious in a workplace situation isn’t always so clear in a spiritual one. So let me put it simply: as Christians, God is our Boss; We don’t stock the Devil’s shelves. We don’t give into pressure to do the wrong things just because it feels good or makes us fit in any more than we would provide free labor at Walmart while working for Shopko. To do so just doesn’t make sense.

The truth is that most people who exert this type of “enforced” peer pressure don’t do it because they want us to fit in. They do it because they want us to trip up. The Bible tells us in John 3:20 that “They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished.” Christians, especially those committed to following Christ in their daily lives, are lights in the darkness. This will likely make at least a few of our co-workers uncomfortable. Since they can’t stay away from us, some of them will intentionally try to justify their point of view by invalidating ours. In proving our hypocrisy, they dim the very light which exposes theirs.

By determining Who we serve beforehand (and steeling ourselves to stand firm), we’re heading this tactic off at the pass. When the difficult situations arise, there will be no question in our minds about the right thing to do… and we’ll know exactly where to get the strength to do it! We must kneel in prayer. Ask God for help. Then stand our ground.

Enforced Pressure: They Really Do Want Me to Be Like Them!

10 Oct

Peer pressure isn’t limited to our own, internal recognition that we don’t quite fit. Sometimes, others really are trying to force us to conform. While this type of pressure doesn’t always take the form of outright bullying, the choices it sets before us and the scars it leaves behind can be just as uncomfortable. Like any good soldier, if we want to stand firm, we need to be ready with a well thought out plan of defense.

Situations involving “enforced” peer pressure can’t be approached in the same way as “perceived pressure”. We do have control over ourselves and whether we become “big picture” thinkers, secure in our own identity. We don’t have control over how others view us or our life choices. Despite our best efforts to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18), not everyone will be comfortable with who we are and what we represent. When that happens, some people will inevitably respond by trying to transform us into something we are not.

Our beliefs, however, aren’t the only reason that we may encounter peer pressure. Indeed, many of the individuals who are guilty of exerting peer pressure aren’t nearly as interested in forcing others to conform as they are in gathering adoring followers for themselves. On occasion, the people who fall into this category are megalomaniacs on an ego trip. More frequently, however, they are individuals who are seeking to build up their own low self-image. If others adore them, then perhaps, they will also come to love themselves.

It should come as no surprise that this type of enforced pressure is actually the easiest to counter. People who fall into this category are in need of an ego boost. We just happen to be available to potentially satisfy that need – validating their attitudes and lifestyle through imitation. In such cases, rather than simply surrendering to the pressure or (as we’re more inclined to do) pushing back, we need to be beacons of love. We serve a God who delights in diversity… and so should we.

In living this life of obedience, it’s important to recognize that “different” doesn’t always equal “bad” or “wrong”. Just because I listen to the morning news and you watch the evening news doesn’t mean that either of us must make a judgment about which way is better or best. Our differing habits don’t reflect on our mental abilities or our worth as human beings. They are merely differences and they add color to life.

Steer clear of phrases that appear to degrade choices that differ from your own. And when you can legitimately avoid making a choice about what is better or best, do! A friend of mine once asked, “Why do I have to have a favorite? Why can’t I like them all?” His question is a valid one. A lot of heartache could be saved if we placed more emphasis on the beauty of variety than upon making judgments about its quality.

 That doesn’t mean, of course, that we accept every difference, viewpoint, or lifestyle choice as valid. (There are some differences which really do matter.) But it does mean that we accept the individuals who hold those differing viewpoints. As those around us grow to recognize the acceptance we offer, the peer pressure they exert upon us will often subside. (To be continued…)

Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part IV

3 Oct

Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the dangers of “perceived peer pressure”. We’ve spent some time discussing why we sometimes feel pressured to conform, even when no actual pressure exists. We’ve talked about the origins of this internal conflict and examined the importance of accepting ourselves for who we are.

All that said, there is another form of “perceived pressure” which most of us encounter. This variety, unlike that quiet gnawing sense that we’re different (and thus, somehow unacceptable), is hidden in the vocal, but not necessarily ill-intended, encouragement of others.

Consider the following illustration: one year, while discussing my upcoming birthday with my coworkers, one of them suggested that I should go “all out” – go to a bar, get drunk, and pick up a guy for the night. Obviously, the suggestion was offensive to my way of thinking and I might easily have seen this particular employee as “pressuring” me to reject my beliefs. Yet that was the farthest thing from his mind. Unlike those who egg us on, lying in wait to catch us in sin, my friend genuinely believed that such behavior did make for a good time… and he earnestly wanted me to have some fun.

This is where our ability to recognize the difference between ill-informed suggestions and actual pressure is important. In this particular case, I laughed, thanked him for his wishes, and told him about my other plans. While this might seem like glossing over the issue, it led to a cemented relationship in which I was later able to present the Gospel message. Why? Because he realized that I wasn’t going to condemn him for his own ideas of right and wrong or, worse yet, try to pressure him into accepting mine.

This stance can be difficult for many believers simply because we’ve been raised in a church culture which teaches that any failure to point out sin is a sin in and of itself. Yet nowhere does Scripture actually teach this concept. Instead, we are to be careful about when, where, and how we point out the faults of others. Matthew 7:1-6 warns us, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

The truth is that most of the people we encounter (Christians or non-Christians) are already aware of their sinfulness. We as Christians, then, are charged not with beating them over the head with the evil they’ve done (or to judge them as though we are somehow better than they are). Instead, we are to present them with a living, working image of the Christ who died to save them from the penalty of that sin.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t call sin “sin,” but it does mean that we don’t engage in the same sort of “enforced pressure” tactics used by the Enemy. Changes in behavior don’t necessarily equal a change of heart. Only if the change begins with Jesus will there ever be any real change at all.

 

Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part III

26 Sep

If we’re honest, most of us want others to like us and this should come as no surprise, since God designed human beings to serve as a support system for one another. In Genesis 2:18-22 we read, “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.”

The Apostle Paul also emphasized this principle telling us that, “…everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:3-8)

The difficulty arises not when we need others or when they need us, but when we begin to allow that need (and all of the expectations, false or otherwise, which go along with it) to mold us into someone other than who we are. Colossians 3:3,4 tells us, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” As believers, our identity is no longer governed by the sins of our past, the labels which are slapped upon us by others, or even the grand expectations of well- meaning friends and colleagues, but by Who Christ is and what He did for us.

Colossians 3:2, tells us to, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” The truth is, only as we devote ourselves to those things which honor God will we begin to understand our new identity in Him. And only as we understand that identity, will we find the type of security which doesn’t require the affirmation of others. This is the key to handling “perceived pressure.”

Like anyone else, we have to choose who we do (or don’t) want to fit in with and make our choices accordingly. If we’re in with one group, we can be certain that will be out with others. That’s a normal human condition and there’s really nothing wrong with it. In fact, if you look over your list of friends, you’ll likely discover at least a few who don’t have a great deal in common with you. Are they always trying to pretend they come from the same background, enjoy the same movies, or like the same clothing styles? Probably not. And neither should you.

If you want to avoid caving in to “perceived pressure”, you have to begin with being comfortable with who you are. It’s that simple. And that hard.

 

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.

 

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