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!

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