Peer Pressure, Workplace Issues

Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part II

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, Workplace Issues

Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part I

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…)