For the longest time, I’ve struggled with being your average, typical, people-pleaser. While I may have developed my own mind as I grew older, the struggle has never gotten any easier. While I knew what I had to do, there was always a clenching at the pit of my stomach when facing confrontations of any sort. My fear of offending was great — to the extent of compromising my beliefs.
When I think about peer pressure, I think about loyalty, and how I have never wanted to be that person who exposes the cheat in a test, or the snitch who tells on the friends who made off from the canteen with unpaid candy. Isn’t peer pressure about wanting to fit in with your mates? For me, it went beyond just how I behaved, but also included my desire to accept ideologies propagated through the media or to dress in a certain way or to watch trending shows in order to be accepted by my friends. These were pressures I felt as a kid that did not dissipate as I grew older. In fact, these pressures starting morphing into a different but more insidious variant.
TAKING THE EASY WAY OUT
Nowadays, in order to be deemed socially acceptable, it’s not just about ‘doing as they do’, but ‘thinking as they think’ — we are required to support the same ideologies and social causes as everyone else in order to fit in, and if you don’t, beware. People get upset when you don’t think as they do. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I was caught in an awkward situation with a group of friends because they were debating amongst themselves about a human rights topic and absolutely refused to agree to disagree.
In Josh McDowell’s The Beauty of Intolerance: Setting a Generation Free to Know Truth and Love, the author gave the example of a young dating couple wanting to sleep in the same room when visiting the girl’s parents. Both sides became unhappy — the parents were uncomfortable because it was a blatant disregard for their rules under their own roof, while the daughter felt that because they did not agree with her decision-making, they were rejecting not just her beliefs, but her as a person.
In moments like these, I often think to myself: wouldn’t it be easier to just ride out as many disagreements as possible with a couple of non-committal nods and grunts? I’m tempted to take the easy way out and keep silent, give a harmless little nod here and there, and hope that no one notices my lack of enthusiastic support.
REWARDED FOR COMPROMISE
While it might be terrifying to speak up, there are times where perhaps that “harmless little nod” and silence in the face of disagreement could be all you need for compromise to overflow into the other areas of your life and start gnawing at your core beliefs, shaking the very foundations of what you thought you knew. In the instance of dating, you could be averse to the idea of dating a non-believer at first. Yet after awhile, you realise how difficult it is to find a good Christian guy, and you start getting impatient. What’s more, your friends have started dating non-Christians (and they seem so happy!). Then, you start rationalising that at times, non-Christian guys are even more pleasant and moral than the Christian guys you do know. And so, it starts small — it always does. A little leeway, some casual flirting, and soon enough you’re in a committed relationship that you can’t get out of but is built on completely different values that might even belittle your own.
DOING AS ‘THEY’ DO AND THINKING AS ‘THEY’ DO GETS YOU REWARDS, WHILE BEING COUNTER-CULTURAL OFTEN COMES WITH A COST.
John Piper in his article ‘A Call to Teenagers to Be Free’ writes that the reason most teenagers stay slaves of the expectations of their peers and of the big industries that market popular fashion, music, technology, and entertainment, is because this slavery is so pleasant — and so consistently rewarded — that the possibility of doing otherwise rarely enters our minds. For example, cyberbullies get easily rewarded by ‘likes’ on their hateful comments on social media. They don’t see what they’ve done as bullying because it’s purely online, but in reality, there’s someone on the receiving end getting hurt. Teens also notice that provocative photos on social media get more ‘likes’ than more modest ones, and therefore they may feel like the only way to be cheered on and supported is to show a lot of skin. Doing as ‘they’ do and thinking as ‘they’ do gets you rewards, and being counter-cultural often comes with a cost.
Perhaps the reason why we succumb so easily to peer pressure is because we have sought security in shaky sand instead of the solid rock that is Christ. In his book Mentoring Paradigms: Reflections on Mentoring, Leadership, and Discipleship, Edmund Chan shares the secret to having true inner security. That is, having “Nothing to prove, nothing to lose, and nothing to hide”.
Having nothing to prove means that you have a deep security in God. You have a humility that reminds you that you really needn’t try desperately hard to prove yourself worthy because you indeed are loved and created for a greater purpose.
Having nothing to lose means to be absolutely surrendered to God and to ask Him to be Lord of your life. It is tough, as it requires you to give in to God and His purposes, not yours. In the above scenario about not finding a godly Christian man, it might mean having to wait without knowing when or if you will find one, but accepting that either way, God has the best for your life regardless of what that means.
Having nothing to hide means to walk in true repentance and not soothing our conscience by hiding or rationalising our sins.
In Jeremiah 17:9, the weeping prophet reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Self-deception is subtle and difficult to catch. Thus, above all, we are to guard our hearts, “for everything you do flows from it” (Prov 4:23).
The good news is that our God is gracious! He did not leave us without guidance on how to guard our hearts. Through His Word and by His Holy Spirit, He gives us wisdom freely. And when we inevitably stumble, He catches us and encourages us to do better. We are never truly alone in ideological or physical situations of peer pressure and compromise!