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Word of Wisdom: The Pressure, Part 1

Susan Noyes Anderson - June 12, 2002

People are communal creatures, and wanting to be one of the crowd is natural. This usually brings up questions: "Which set of rules makes sense to me, if any? Whose ideas come closest to my own? What group or groups truly satisfy my needs?" Answers may not be that easy to come by, and that's why an understanding of group behavior and how it affects you is so important.

The Pressure, Part 1

Pressure. Is there anyone who doesn't have to put up with it? One way or another, and usually in lots of ways, we all get to feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. Sometimes it comes from outside sources, sometimes from within, but it's always a force to be reckoned with.

When a person who's still in school decides to break the Word of Wisdom, peer pressure usually gets blamed. A lot of the teens I know resent this assumption. They feel sure that what others do doesn't really affect them. I wouldn't go that far, but I do agree that peers are only one of many sources of pressure, including parents, school, church, and even one's self. Let's take a look at some of the pressures you and your friends are exposed to, as well as their effects.

My guess is that you've all had at least one science teacher explain (probably in more detail than you wanted!) exactly how rocks are formed. Apparently sand, clay, mud, fossils, pieces of wood and the like are subjected to geological pressure over long periods of time. That pressure, a jumble of powerful forces brought to bear upon them for years, eventually molds them into rocks and boulders.

Doesn't it seem likely that the pressures exerted upon people mold them too? I believe they do, and I also believe that sometimes those forces are powerful enough to cause tremors or even full-on earthquakes in our lives. Let's take a closer look at what kinds of pressures influence you.

Most parents want the best for their children, and yours are no different. Moms and Dads are thrilled when their kids look good, act right, study hard, make the honor roll, win scholarships or other honors, run for office, join clubs, participate in sports...(are you still with me?)...attend seminary, church and activities cheerfully, develop positive extracurricular interests, choose uplifting friends, do chores willingly, develop hobbies or skills, earn their own money... (need a time out yet??)...organize their schedules, work through problems, seem happy, and in all these (and as many other ways as possible) provide good examples to their brothers and sisters. Whew! No sweat, huh? No pressure either!

As if that weren't enough, school can take the very best student and turn him or her into a total stress case. Academic competition, the need to be accepted by the "right" college, figuring out your major, dealing with frazzled teachers, and even finding some kids to hang out with can be a real drag. On top of that, you have to come up with a way to fit those important church activities in, all the time remembering to CTR in a CT not so R kind of world. Let's face it. It's not easy being you, and there is definitely pressure involved. (And we haven't even talked about peers yet!)

But we probably should. This discussion of pressure really wouldn't be complete without them. Let's begin by saying what everybody already knows: Having friends matters. And what our friends think of us matters too. This is true for parents and kids alike, because acceptance is a basic human need, one we share with the animal kingdom. Wolves need a pack, sheep a herd, lions a pride, geese a flock—even puppies start out in litters!

Of course, we start out in families, but that's just the beginning. As social as our animal friends are, we seem to be even more so. While they belong to one group, we belong to many. We're part of a family, an extended family, a neighborhood, a ward, a school, a work environment, a club, a team, a class... the possibilities are endless, and so are the pressures. Where do these pressures come from? Our natural desire to please and be liked. People are communal creatures, and wanting to be one of the crowd is natural. In fact, it's instinct!

How do we get to be "one of the crowd"? The same way animals do, though on a more complex scale. We set up rules, agreements, and expectations. These can be unwritten—even unspoken—but they are as real as the messages we receive through satellite disks and telephone wires. Sometimes the group rules are right out in the open, but other times they are camouflaged so completely only your subconscious mind knows about them. Either way, your understanding and willingness to go along is the ticket that gets and keeps you in.

Scientists have noticed a similar pattern in packs, prides, and herds. Leaders evolve, as do codes of behavior, and conformity is part of the deal. Those who buck the basic laws and structure of the group will not be part of it for long. Often, the "different ones" are attacked and left behind to fend for themselves. Of course, no living thing wants to be alone.

Human beings least of all want to be alone, and our lives are even more complicated than those of the animals we observe in nature. So are the pressures we face. Most of us identify with several groups, and rules and expectations can differ with each one. As a teen, you may feel pulled in too many directions, especially when you're trying to figure out who you are and what you want. This usually brings up questions: "Which set of rules makes sense to me, if any? Whose ideas come closest to my own? What group or groups truly satisfy my needs?" Answers may not be that easy to come by, and that's why an understanding of group behavior and how it affects you is so important. We'll check that out that next week in "The Pressure, Part 2."