Monday, November 12, 2012

How to deal with peer pressure

To understand how to deal with peer pressure, one must first understand what peer pressure is. A dictionary definition for peer pressure is : social pressure by members of one's peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted. Note the "to be accepted" part of the definition. It means that the reason that one would "feel pressure" is if and only if he *wanted* to be accepted by his peers. So, what if he didn't want that? Then he wouldn't "feel pressured". Interestingly, the conventional understanding is that people, by nature, want to be socially accepted, and that people that don't want that, are mentally ill -- but this is a parochial mistake. To illustrate that this conventional understanding is false, consider this:
"I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses."
-- Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630 AD)
Whats the implication?

Why do people want to "fit in"? -- why do they crave other people's approval? -- why do they want to be accepted by a group? Instead of having a goal of social acceptance, why don't they have a goal of living morally? One might say that he can have both goals, but he'd be wrong.

Either he seeks to do the right thing, or he seeks to do what other's will approve of. Sometimes these two goals don't conflict, in which case there's no problem, and seeking approval was unnecessary. But what about when these goals do conflict? How should one choose which goal matters? Should he choose (1) the right thing that won't be accepted by the group, or (2) the wrong thing that will be accepted by the group? If he chooses (1), then the group is immoral and he shouldn't want acceptance from immoral people. If he chooses (2), then he's choosing immorality, and to make matter's worse he's partaking and thus condoning the group's immorality.

Consider this hypothetical situation. A person enjoys biology and she wants to earn money doing some kind of work involving biology. She wants to get good grades in highschool so that she can be accepted into a good university. And she wants to attend a good university so that she can have lots of opportunities after university. One day some friends of hers say they are skipping school that day and have asked her to join them. She declines explaining her reasoning that she wants to stay in school to keep up her grades. They respond by saying that one day won't cause a problem and they again ask  her to go, this time with some peer pressure tactics like "come on, it won't be fun without you".

Now she's conflicted. She wants to stay in school so that she can keep up her grades but she also wants to join her friends so that they will accept her in the social group. How does she resolve this conflict of goals? If she goes with them, she is sacrificing her preference for staying in school to keep up her grades. If she doesn't go with them, she is sacrificing her preference for acceptance. So she loses either way. What should she do? The conventional understanding of how she should choose involves "weighing" options. It implies that she could figure out which of the two options she values "more", but this doesn't work. We cannot meaningfully "weigh" options. What we should do is refute the options that are bad, leaving only one good option. How does this work? In the case of this hypothetical, the girl should criticize her options. She could ask herself the following questions:

After having told my friends my reasoning for wanting to stay in school, why did they insist on me sacrificing my values just so that they could get what they want? Because they are thinking selfishly.

Why don't they care that I get what I want? Because they are thinking selfishly.

If I sacrifice what I want, and if that leads to failure, will they support me financially? No, because they are thinking selfishly.

If I don't go with them, thus preserving my life plan, is that selfish thinking? Yes.

What do I gain by doing what they want? I gain acceptance by people who don't care about my values and are willing to coerce me to sacrifice my values -- not only are they selfish, they are also willing to hurt me to get their way.

What do I gain by staying in school? I get to preserve my life plan.


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