Peer Pressure

Peer Pressure

I’m the first to admit I can be a stubborn character. Once I decide on a course I can dig my heels in and pursue it come hell or high water. For the most part I choose to do things I enjoy – that includes being helpful because that makes me feel good as a result. But I don’t do anything because I feel I ought, because I want to conform, because everybody does it.

I really don’t care be pressured by people into doing something I don’t want to do. Any time I get that kind of pressure I start to feel irritated and I can quickly get angry and snappish. I’m not a naturally rebellious type. I don’t take stands to make a point or to be contrary. I do it for purely personal reasons, not to fit in with some group of people.

I’m the eternal outsider; I never feel fully part of any group: I don’t get that involved. And to a large degree that leaves me immune to the pressures that social groups can bring to bear on their members to conform. I feel no need to think, speak or act the same way as others. I have enough confidence these days not to worry if people don’t like what I do. I’m comfortable in my own company, doing my own thing.

I keep trying to understand peer pressure; to work out why so many people have a need to be part of a social circle. I find it all very confusing. Are these people’s values really so malleable that they may be changed to match the group norm? My values are deeply ingrained and have been consistent throughout most of my life. Do these people go against some of their natural inclinations to follow a stronger urge to conform and be accepted by the group? If so, wouldn’t this cause an internal conflict, some feelings of discomfort or even guilt?

I’ve seen people act in certain ways when in a group that they would never consider doing when alone. This can include being critical of and putting down people who are not members of the group, and even bullying. There appears to be a suspension of personal responsibility: whatever the group does is the responsibility of the group rather than devolving to each individual within it. There appears to be self-censorship: there must be no disagreement within the group, so no member feels able to take a dissenting position on anything.

I find it all rather depressing and dispiriting. Is it a failure in education that people are so reluctant to think for themselves and stand up in defense of their values? Or – a darker thought – is it just human nature? Are we doomed to a society shaped and dominated by inter-group rivalries and conflict?

Enough of this – I dislike ending on a negative note and this subject is getting me down. I’ll just continue to hope for enlightenment and respect, and treat others as I would like to be treated in return. Perhaps it’s just a drop in the ocean, a solitary candle against the darkness, but at least I can hold my head high.