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…)