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.

6 thoughts on “Peer Pressure

  1. I'm afraid I think it's human nature. I think of it like a tribal instinct; nationalism is part of it too. I do feel it sometimes but I can't explain it which is why I put it down to human nature, because then it's not my fault!

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  2. I agree – I do think it's a tribal thing. People have a predisposition to coalesce into social groups along the lines of shared beliefs/values. The negative side is the narcissism which leads to belief in the superiority of ones own group with the implication that other groups are inferior – this leads to denigration of "alien" groups, possibly leading to conflict.

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  3. I think it's sort of like pack mentality, so to speak. I think people do that in order to keep themselves in good standing with the rest of the people in the group so as not to be kicked out of it. I don't understand why people gang up on others, ridicule them and do such things when they would not do that otherwise. I am very upset when someone says something bigoted or nasty toward another person and I'll say so. We've had people that we have fallen out with because they were just too nasty to others or had this sort of pack mentality.On the flip side of this… I think there is something to be said for having a group to belong to but for different reasons than fitting in or being made to feel socially connected on a superficial level. I would love to belong to a group of people who study Hinduism and belong to some of the groups out here that are considered earth-friendly green groups. I'll be trying out the later this summer, but the Hindu thing I'm not having any luck in. Belonging to these groups would mean I would be able to learn from others and gather interesting viewpoints that are different from my own and grow from learning from them and getting to know them. That's what I think of when I wish to belong to a group. What's sad is that so often pettiness and the need to be right while others are wrong tend to mix into things after a while. I'm not sure if it's like that all the time, but I've found that to be the case many times before.

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  4. Hi Bird,Thank you for reminding me that groups can have positive aspects: I got hung up on the downside. I will have to reflect on groups that assemble based on shared activities or interests rather than beliefs or values. I think there are key differences. Could be interesting 🙂 I wish you luck with your pursuit of Hindu study.Warm regards,Ben.

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  5. I sometimes worry about letting “non-conformist” be a mannerism because I notice myself feeling the same way as you described feeling here. Wouldn’t it be ironic if you accidentally made a habit of identifying with making a point of not doing what everyone else is doing? Sometimes when I find myself getting caught up in a trendy craze like a fad in popular music or movies – where the mass marketed entertainment is miraculously playing to my tastes instead of seeming “not quite right” in terms of what appeals to me when I’m channel surfing, and it feels kind of special to “fit in” by actually liking something that was already and still is considered very popular in general. So I know I’m not really making some personal project out of “being a non-conformist consistently” in order to be able to get along by trading on a stereotype, as a variation on what everyone else who tries too hard to fit in does when they’re “being fake” in a way that makes you feel like not conforming is reactionary, but completely natural and socially appropriate, and you wonder at how easy it is to disapprove of “other people” en masse, or nod at quotable remarks like “hell is other people” as if that made sense on face value.

    But when you’ve really gotten to know someone who isn’t just trying to fit in among other adolescents by going with the flow to avoid being singled out and bullied as “THE outsider / the permissible target / nobody understands or sticks up for them”, yet is making a lifestyle out of trading on perception management, fitting in by being fake in order to fool other people somehow, the clerical mercenary type, with a Machiavellian attitude towards saying and doing whatever everyone else thinks you’re supposed to be seen and heard saying and doing in public, you can get awfully paranoid about what “conformist” group dynamics are really about. Sometimes it looks like a lazy way of not sticking out in a group, a low-key commitment among individuals to go along for the sake of getting along that just accumulates until people can be confused with each other if you haven’t made an effort to match names to faces, because they do so many things “the same way everyone else does it” just because. But sometimes it looks like “fitting in” is the only thing some people ever put their minds to, and then you can visualize a Zombie Apocalpyse reality TV outcome, Shawn of the Dead style on a lazy day and with shotgun + twinkie fixation humor if it’s feeling a little too much like an action adventure “neverending story” type situation, one that just doesn’t come with cute white dragons who want to be scratched behind the ears.

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    1. I have known people who were non-conformist for the sake of it, to make some kind of statement against mainstream, popular culture, and there are groups based on that idea. But that has never appealed to me: I find them to be merely the mirror image of those who slavishly follow the latest fashions in music, TV, clothing and so on, and as such are as bereft of independent thought. I can be confident that if I like something that happens to be popular it is purely because I appreciate some aspect of it.

      Sartre’s “L’enfer, c’est les autres” doesn’t describe my outlook: I enjoy the company of other people as long as I maintain certain boundaries, which include being able to drop in and out as it suits me. I’ve found I can’t simulate an interest I don’t have, so if a group of my friends are doing something that isn’t my thing I feel no obligation to join in.

      I guess I’ve gravitated to the kind of people who don’t make demands on me, who are happy to let me be myself and do my own thing. When that happens to coincide with what other people are doing then, yes, I am happy to join in.

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