The interviewer asked the man who was celebrating his 100th birthday what the best thing was about turning one-hundred. Displaying some quick wit for someone his age he instantly replied, “No peer pressure”.
We often tend to see peer pressure almost exclusively as a teenage problem. Big mistake! Toddlers already demand to have what they see other toddlers possess. And I recall a church I served where one young family after another traded in their car for a 4×4. Was that coincidental? I would be very surprised.
In some ways peer pressure is not a huge problem. Let’s face it, when a certain new item of technology appears on the market we may see it advertised but take only a passing interest – but when a brother-in-law demonstrates to you the benefits of that new technological gadget then it very quickly heightens your interest to the point where you too want such a gadget. And when your workmate tells you how helpful he finds it then that gadget quickly changes from a ‘want’ to a ‘need’.
I’m loathe to use this blog to have a go at the way peer pressure keeps the wheels of industry churning out stuff that ends up keeping us busier than we ought to be. The problem is that I am part of that consumer culture and I know how insidious peer pressure can become. I too have upgraded my phones (and my computers) over the years. And of course I can easily justify it. Hey, who would still want to be sitting behind a Pentium-1 computer with 64 megabytes of memory and a hard-drive that could now only store one hour-long movie clip? Somehow we do have to keep up with progress. And no, we don’t always do it simply because everyone else is doing it. It often just makes good sense.
And yet…? The pressure to keep up with the latest and best… with the most fashionable and progressive is something we all feel acutely at times. Our teenagers would be highly embarrassed if we gave them an old-fashioned cell-phone that only made phone calls and sent text-messages. It might be better for them and save them from the temptation of surfing the net for sex – but peer pressure would force them to leave it at home or at the very least leave it at the bottom of their school bag. But his Mum would feel just as embarrassed with that kind of phone among her friends at the gym. So would his dad amongst the blokes in the workshop. Peer pressure is not just an issue for teenagers.
An area of peer pressure that concerns me much more is when it relates to issues of faith and our Christian witness. We live in a culture where it is increasingly ‘uncool’ to be seen as a Bible believing Christian. I thought of this some time ago when we stopped off for some lunch at a fast food place (which shall remain anonymous – lest I be seen to be advertising their product). Two big Pacific Islander men got their order and sat at a table together. I watched admiringly as they bowed their heads and said grace before tucking into their food. Peer pressure stops many of us from doing that. We might say grace before meals at home but we wouldn’t dream of doing that in a restaurant.
That’s a pity. I know we’ve had our debates about how much we need to spend before we say grace. Should you say grace for just a packet of chips? I recall visiting a Christian family once where they even said grace before morning coffee and before afternoon tea. I’m not suggesting we should do that. But I do wonder: If what we are having is the equivalent to our (family) meal then what’s wrong with ignoring peer pressure and saying grace?
There are some benefits. On one occasion I was eating out with my wife when people at the next table received their meal. One of the party said grace and when he said ‘Amen’ I added my ‘Amen’. That led to some surprised looks from the table next door and a lovely discussion with some like-minded Christians that really made our day.
Nor should we underestimate the power of the Christian witness that this can give. On one occasion we had a Japanese exchange student staying with us for a while. She kept two copies of a diary and gave us a copy when she left. On one occasion we had taken her and our own daughter sight-seeing and stopped for a fast-food lunch. We said grace before we ate. Her diary entry for that day reads: “I know you believe in God but when you pray at (the restaurant) I know you really believe in God.”
Next time you’re in the fast-food restaurant for a meal (not a coffee!) pretend that you’re one-hundred – and free from peer pressure….!