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…)