I came across a cartoon that finally answered an old question that has become the butt of many a joke: Why did the chicken cross the road? The answer is: peer-pressure. The cartoon showed a hesitant hen standing by the roadside with traffic flying past. On the other side of the road stood some feathered friends crying, “Chicken!” Perhaps that needs explaining to some. In my teenage years if you were scared to do something that others did, you were “chicken”. I don’t know whether people are still labelled as being chicken today to describe a state of fearfulness but I don’t hear it too often anymore.
I had to smile. Peer-pressure makes us do the strangest things, things that with the wisdom of hindsight, we often regret. Like most young people I often based my appeals on what my peers were doing. There was a time at age 14 when iridescent coloured socks were all the rage and “all” my friends had them so I badgered my Mum until I had a pair too. To show them off for maximum effect I wore them to school – where they were banned. I forgot that I had been going through a growth spurt and that my school-trousers therefore showed off a considerable piece of iridescent sock. I still remember the detention.
I thought that the topic of my previous blog on peer-pressure was worth revisiting. It seems to me that there are particularly two things that tend to make us cave in to peer-pressure.
The first is an undue fear of people. Last time I mentioned that many of us who have no trouble “saying grace” at the family meal-table skip the practice when we are in a restaurant. Why? Fear of what people will think. Fear that someone there who knows us will make fun of us later. I recall an instance where someone in the group at a restaurant asked, tongue in cheek, “Well, is someone going to say grace or shall we all just touch our foreheads for a few seconds?” He was aware that there were people in his group who had an undue fear of people. Why are we so afraid of what people will think or say? Sure, they can make life difficult for us. A lady I knew used to say grace when eating in the factory canteen – she told about her lunch box being taken and hidden while her eyes were closed. In other words sometimes peer pressure is not just to escape ostracism or ridicule – in extreme cases it can even be for physical self-protection.
Jesus put the fear of people into perspective when he said not to be afraid of those who kill the body – because that’s all they can do…! Instead He challenged us to fear Him who the power to cast soul and body into hell. Some mockery and ridicule is not the worst thing that can happen to us. Even if we suffer from more than mere words, that is still not the worst that can happen. The worst thing is to live outside of the grace of God.
That brings us to a second reason for succumbing to peer-pressure: a decided lack in fear of God. In the final analysis we are not accountable to people but to our Creator and Lord of the universe. Is it not strange that often it seems that we would rather be commended by people than by Him? That is a terrible reversal of values. When He tells us to express gratitude to Him for the food we eat (Deut.8:10) then that ought to take precedence for us. It trumps any conventions of our largely secular (and increasingly pagan) culture.
Paul puts the matter of peer-pressure into perspective for us in 1 Cor.4:3. He says that he really doesn’t care about being judged by humans. He then adds that the one who examines him is the Lord. If we kept this attitude of Paul in mind when we feel we are under pressure to conform to the standards of society it would save us from caving in to peer-pressure.