Growing up, you were probably assailed with the saying “evil communication corrupts good manners.” I heard it so much I didn’t dare to corrupt my good manners with questionable interactions. If something looked evil, smelled evil, or gave even the slightest impression that it could become evil, I didn’t give it any chance.
I’m sure many of us can relate to this. From school to religious circles and beyond, you likely heard about the dangers of ‘mixing with the wrong set of people’, about how easy it was to give in to peer pressure. But as you grew older and gained better self-mastery, you lost your fear of external influences, certain that as an adult, you were immune from them. Are you though?
As a teenager, I was told about the dangers of peer pressure with relation to vices like drugs, sex and alcohol. Now that I’m older and wiser, I see how insubstantial that depiction is because peer pressure involves much more than influence to do drugs, sex and alcohol. Even more incredible is the realisation that no one ever really outgrows or becomes immune to peer pressure. It’s always there.
Think back to yourself as an impressionable 16 year old. Now, think of who you are today and how much more self-aware you have become between then and now. There’s every likelihood that you have better self-command today than you did when you were sixteen. You now know what your values are and intentionally chose your friends based on those values, so it’s safe to say that certain things you would put up with in your teenage years are a no-no for you today. But even your evolution does not immunise you from peer pressure because as long as you have people whose opinion matters to you, people you respect whose perspective you see the world from, there is a chance that they can influence you.
Not convinced any sane adult will give in to peer pressure? Indulge me for a bit. I want you to set aside your understanding of peer pressure as a negative thing and think of it through the lens of influence.
Instead of regarding peer pressure as ‘pressure’ – as in harassment, think of it as peer admiration that progressively becomes an aspiration. Alternatively, you can think of it as easy camaraderie, one person’s strong opinion about a matter which ultimately informs another’s opinion about the same matter – this is quite common because such opinions are often presented with conviction and coherence. For example, you might befriend a staunch Beyoncé fan, and even when they don’t actively canvass for you to listen to Beyoncé, you might find yourself developing an interest in her music until you start exuberantly breaking down Beyoncé’s move for TikTok years down the line.
Throughout your friendship, this Beyoncé fanatic might not even once try to convince you about the awesomeness of Queen Bey, but because they can’t hide their love for her, you can’t miss it, and in constantly being around that, it’s nearly impossible for you not to get curious about what makes her so exciting. That’s what influence is about: sharing our excitement, values, and discoveries with people.
No matter what age you are, as long as you are on the receiving end of these things, you are susceptible to peer pressure.
Something a good number of ‘adults’ are guilty of being pressured into, even though they will swear that’s not the case, is gossip, and they have a case because, truly, the conversations that make up this gossip are almost always well-intended. They converse to exchange views, let out steam, share their thoughts or memories, and so on, so they will never call themselves gossips. Call them that and they will seethe with righteous anger because they are above such vice. But what do you call a conversation – no matter how constructive – that cannot be had in the presence of the person(s) who is being spoken about?
The thing about gossip is it’s very insidious, so not every gossip knows that they are gossiping because they are judging their actions by their intention, which for them is harmless. That’s why you need to be conscious not only about your intentions but also your actions and the way other people see them.
You don’t have to be a naïve teenager to be susceptible to peer pressure, all you need to be is human.
You need to guard your influences jealously. If you can, take regular self-assessment to sieve unwanted influences from your life. Take time to investigate your conversations and the biases they left you with. Think about them in light of what you know to be true, whether they leave you malicious, close-minded or kinder.
If you can do these, you will be able to successfully manage peer pressure well into your old age.
Featured Image: Dreamtime