Overcoming Peer Pressure
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth
First, let’s discuss what is peer pressure.
Do you ever feel stuck between doing what you know is right and what your peers say is right?
If you’ll look up the word “pressure” in the dictionary, you’ll get this: the burden of physical or mental distress.
Pressure can come in many different ways, like social pressure. Social pressure is when there’s someone, or a few someones, pressuring you to do something you don’t exactly want to. You can feel like people are pressuring you directly or indirectly to do or not do something you may want or not want to do.
The truth is though, that peer pressure doesn’t necessarily need to be bad, even though that’s what most people think of when they hear the term; it can be a good thing as well. Everyone wants to get along with other people.
A social life is a good thing, isn’t it?
Like we just said, it is. As Yidden, being part of a community is important to us. In many different places, we see how important it is to be part of a group. In Pirkei Avos, it says, “Al tifrosh min hatzibbur.” (Don’t separate yourself from the community.) We learn b’Chavrusa, we daven with a Minyan. In the Midbar, we travelled together, in Shvatim and Machanos. The Rebbe wrote in a letter to someone that they should surround their child with good friends who will have a good influence on him.
It’s good to be part of a group.
But, what if a particular group isn’t really the best for you?
I was once told by my friends that we were all going to pull a serious prank on someone else, and I had to join them, because “If we do it together, we can’t be punished. Al tifrosh min hatzibbur!”
It’s clear now, that this group wasn’t really such a great one, and I was a little unsettled, because on the one hand, it’s nice to be part of a group, plus if I didn’t take part in this “expedition”, I might have been “punished” for it; maybe they were gonna kick me out, or even embarrass me for it. But on the other hand, it’s not nice to just prank someone like that, especially if it’s a big one.
So now my priorities were in question: Was I going to say “Well, it’s important to be part of a group, so I really should just go with the flow,” or would I be able to say “I’m gonna stand up for what’s right even though it’s gonna be uncomfortable”?
This is called negative peer pressure, and it’s something to try to stay away from because it’s very powerful. In fact, the same RaMBaM who says that people are social beings and should try to put themselves in the right social group, also says that if this is the case -that the peer pressure here is big and bad- you should move away from this bad society, even if it means moving to the desert alone.
So we see, it is not uncommon for peer pressure to be something negative and cause people to do the wrong things.
It’s important to fight it.
The first thing it says in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is:
“Yehudah ben Taima omer: (Yehudah ben Taima says:)
Hevei oz kanemer… (Be bold as a leopard…)
laasos retzon Avicha shebaShamayim. (to fulfill the will of your Father in Heaven.)
Oz kanemer, hu, (To be bold as a leopard means,)
shelo lehisbayesh mipnei bnei adam hamaligim.” (that one should not be embarrassed when confronted by scoffers.”)
What is the first Halacha? Don’t cave in to peer pressure! When someone mocks you for doing what you know is right, don’t listen to them.
But, hey! Fighting social pressure is hard, you’re gonna tell me. And you know what? You’re right.
Peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with and not to be ignored. It’s a very powerful thing.
So then, how do you fight peer pressure? To stand up for your right beliefs in a group where a lot of people seem to think that their wrongdoings are actually correct, is a very hard thing to do.
So where do you go get the strength to do it?
Yiras Shamayim helps:
In Yiddishkeit there’s something called Yiras Shamayim. For the sake of this essay, instead of translating the term literally, we’re gonna call it “Awareness of G-d.”
So what does it mean to be aware of Hashem and how do you get there?
This is where Chassidus comes in.
In Perek Gimmel of Tanya, it says how Chochmah and Binah are “the very ‘father’ and ‘mother’ which give birth to love of G-d, and awe and dread of Him.”
And the question is, how?
Basically, when the Sechel shebaNefesh haMasceles (your thought process) deeply contemplates the greatness of Hashem;
1)Memaleh kol olmin:
How Hashem gives energy to all creations.
2)Sovev kol olmin:
How Hashem surrounds all worlds with such a great light and life-force that it cannot be contained and therefore affects everything in an encompassing manner.
3)Kulah kmei klo choshiv:
How in Hashem’s presence, everything is considered as nothing.
When you contemplate these three things, especially deeply, the above mentioned midos of awe, fear, and love for Hashem will be aroused in your mind and thought. After all, how could it not? Once these Midos are aroused in your thought, you become constantly aware of Hashem and that factor helps you do the right thing when put to the test.
I’ll give you a little mashal (parable):
You love your parents, are in awe and fear of them, and want only to strengthen your relationship, your connection with them.
And so, as their child who wants this, and loves them so much, would you ever want to do something, even if everyone is doing it, that would weaken your bond with them, or make them disappointed in you?
The answer? Of course not.
You know why? Because you are constantly striving towards a greater relationship with them and so you want to please them. You don’t want to disappoint them, you want to make them proud of you.
And it’s the same with Hashem. He is our Father in Heaven, and we want to give Him pride in the fact that we are His children.
And even if everyone is doing it, and no one will be able to tell, you know Who could tell? Hashem can. And you know who else could? Yourself.
This is what it says Perek Daled of Tanya, that when someone is oiver an aveirah (commits a sin), he feels ashamed before Hashem, for doing something that He does not want us to do.
Yiras Shamayim helps because when you are completely devoted to Hashem, it will give you the strength to stand up for your beliefs, combat the peer pressure that is hounding you, and above all, do the right thing.
And what’s more, is that even just learning Chassidus helps because all of it really is speaking about the greatness of Hashem. When you’re learning about how great He is and other stuff like Hashgachah Pratis, it gives you a sense of Purpose. You think to yourself that Hashem put you in this this world to do good things, not to just sit around, do blah stuff, and others things only for you.
Hashem gave you an imperfect world and said, “Here, I’ve given you this imperfect world to live in. Make it a comfortable place for Me to live in, too; a Dirah B’Tachtonim.” When you learn Chassidus, you realize this, that you have a Higher Purpose; so when you really feel like doing something that’s wrong because everyone else is doing it, it gives you that power to say, “No, I am not going to do this because it is wrong and even though everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t mean it’s right. Hashem put me in this world for a reason and this is not it.”
A clear example of negative peer pressure would be someone in a shochet’s position. Reading this, you may be like, what? How is a shochet an example of peer pressure, right?
Well, I’ll tell you. A shochet has a very hard job. What’s his job? He needs to slaughter animals, but in the way that they’ll be Kosher according to Halacha. He needs to shecht them. What’s hard about that is this: a cow is very expensive, and can cost even $1200. Once that cow is bought, it needs to be shechted and Kosher. If there is something wrong with the cow, it can cause a huge monetary loss.
So if the shochet finds something about the cow that isn’t Kosher, he has to say it to his employer. But what if, for some reason, the shochet often finds himself going to his boss to tell him “the cow isn’t Kosher”? His boss won’t be too pleased with him. He’ll ask, “Why is there always a problem with the cow? Why can’t you shecht a kosher cow for once? You know how much money I’m losing?!”
This is peer pressure from the highest order.
The shochet has to provide for his family; put bread on the table, a roof over their heads. If his employer is upset with him, it’s bad; he can lose his job! One may class this as financial pressure, yes. But his employer (who has his own personal problems, like the need to satisfy consumers and make a profit) is pressuring him as well. What is this shochet’s boss telling him? He’s saying, “Are you sure there really are problems with the Kashrus of the cow? Are you sure it’s really not okay? Maybe it’s just a minor problem that can be fixed, and no one will know.”
This is true. Once a cow is shechted and dealt and done with, it’s basically impossible to see if there are any problems with the meat.
And so, this voice can get into the shochet’s head, pressuring him to find loopholes in Halacha. If he finds a problem, it will tell him, “There’s no problem with this meat! It says that the cow (or any animal whatsoever) has to be this, that, and those. The meat meets the criteria except for maybe this little thing right here, but that’s no problem. Look…” and it’ll continue and maybe even convince the shochet to go around the “obstacles”, and not in a good way.
If the shochet doesn’t learn Chassidus, he’ll have Yiras Shamayim, but not in the way that we just learnt; it might even seem superficial to him, Chas V’Shalom.
But if the shochet does learn Chassidus, he can ignore that voice that wriggled its way into his head because with the Chassidus he’s learnt, his Yiras Shamayim comes to a whole new level. He’s got major strength from this which helps him get rid of that nagging voice.
This one of the reasons that we, as Lubavitchers, prefer to eat Lubavitcher shechitah because if the shochet is Lubavitch, then we assume that he learns Chassidus and is able to instill these values within himself.
To sum it all up, even though peer pressure can be good, it can also be something bad and you have fight it when it is. The way to do that is through learning Chassidus, because it makes you more aware of Hashem, and when that happens, it strengthens your Yiras Shamayim and gives you the sense of a Higher Purpose. Combine the two and your ability to stand up for your beliefs will be strengthened in a way you never knew was possible.
-Letter of the Rebbe
-Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
-Tanya: Perakim Gimmel and Daled
-Merriam Webster Dictionary