Updated: Oct 9, 2019
“I want to be different. If everyone is wearing black, I want to be wearing red.” ~ Maria Sharapova
I love how the quote depicts exactly what I’m thinking. I fear that the human race is striving to be so much like everyone else in following one direction, there is little acceptance in those who are different, until and unless you find some form of success. Several of the famous people that we know today – such as Steve Jobs – chose to follow not only an idea or concept that they were passionate about, but also one that many others didn’t believe would suit well in this world. I understand that perhaps compared to earlier times there is a larger amount of encouragement when it comes to being different. And even when you think of innovation and entrepreneurship; these encourage the very same – and it’s these distinct ideas that you find in the glittering start-ups that we see today.
Back in college, we went through a test of Social Conformity, a well-known experiment established by a Polish psychologist known as Solomon Asch. Split into sections, one person from each group was asked to step out of our lecture hall, and during this time our professor would explain this experiment and illustrate on the board the following image:
Karty užité v experimentu © Fred the Oyster/Wikipedia
Clearly the line on the extreme left is the same length as Line C. However, as a test of social conformity and succumbing to peer pressure – when we all stepped back into class, each group vehemently tried to convince us that it was either Line A or B of the same length. Out of the seven groups, five individuals conformed and agreed, despite knowing deep down that they were wrong. Asch’s research suggests that the reason that these individuals chose to conform was out of fear of being mocked – hence the need to be accepted and liked – as well as the eagerness to be correct – and since the group was disagreeing with the individuals’ thought process, they automatically assumed that they themselves were in the wrong and the group was right.
And this is how peer pressure works.
Individuals don’t enjoy being misfits in the world that we live in. They crave social acceptance in order to be able to welcomed into groups with open arms. However the misfits, spectators and loners that we know are the ones that are different – for whatever reason it may be. It can be as simple as they choose to not drink alcohol, or for their skin colour. Different could even fall along the lines of being queer, with regards to your sexuality, or a mental illness. Different is basically how someone else perceives you, because there’s something in your emotional or mental outlook or physical appearance that bars you from entering societal group or norm.
Have you ever stared at someone for either looking physically different, with regards to their weight or something about their body language? Even a physical disability. Or even if during a discussion you don’t expect someone to disagree with you – because you’re absolutely strong about your point – but they do. I think in the latter situation, when one is very sure of their own standing, they don’t stop to consider where an individual comes from when they speak of what they do. Everyone speaks from their own experiences, understanding, and upbringing. Hence it doesn’t mean that either party in this discussion is wrong, it just means that there can be two sides to every coin.
Take this example. You have a brick wall; one side is painted red, and the other side white. On either side of the wall, there are two individuals – they can’t see each other, and they are facing the wall. Hence when asked what colour they think the wall is, naturally they’re only going to speak of what they see – remember, they can’t see the other side.
Let’s bring this back to the idea of peer pressure. When someone is pressurising someone to do something they don’t wish to, they speak from one aspect, one that is familiar, and may even be considered ‘cool’. The individual being pressurised on the other hand is speaking from their upbringing, or from the perspective that is similarly comfortable with.
So what do you do?
How do you know when to succumb to peer pressure – or, can you ever entirely not? We do it everyday in one aspect or another, don’t we? More than the point of giving into it, the level of confidence that you have, be it in yourself, in your work, in your ethics – whichever it is; that should not fall apart. Alexander the great once said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Why is this so relevant? Don’t blindly follow a perception of truth simply because everyone says it – have you own values and virtues that are well and truly right in order to build your own character. Dare to be different – you don’t have to achieve fame and success in a high-flying manner; it’s just about you believing in yourself and leading a happy life. Whatever perks come with that, enjoy it. 🙂
By being different, you choose to take a step that may indicate that you make the choice to walk through life’s journey alone. This concept involves a long and lonely pathway, where you truly learn those that are there for you and those that are not worth fighting for – and frankly, this loneliness should be embraced; not feared. It’s only going to strengthen you and allow you to live life the way you want to.