Yusra Dahri, London
How many times have we all been told through some medium or another that we must stay true to ourselves and not let anyone change who we are?
How many times have we rolled our eyes in response, thinking that it would never be us?
We are far too clever for that!
If we fast forward a few years later then we all start looking a little foolish.
A flicker of hesitation. An awkward smile.
If we’re so smart, why can’t we think of the perfect thing to say right now, instead of fidgeting nervously?
How do you hold on to your values without offending those who didn’t really mean any harm?
Not as black and white as we thought.
It’s easy enough to defend yourself when someone attacks you directly, but it’s much harder to defend yourself when people challenge your way of thinking, especially unintentionally.
The desire to ‘fit in’ is human nature; no one wants to be an outcast.
But remember, who is it that you’re trying to fit in with? Who are you allowing to influence you?
A family member who has experience with your problem and is trying to give you advice? Or a classmate, someone who is just as inexperienced with real life as you are but insists they know best, or is treated like they do?
And you have to ascertain whether your friends (who are probably quite naive) have your best interests at heart, or don’t know what they’re doing and just don’t want to be alone?
If you’re more inclined to the latter option, then the chances are you’re a sensitive and kind person who wants to help others.
But you have to distinguish whether they need help or they want hedonism.
(If hedonism, say no. There’s no reason for you to take part in something you don’t believe in.)
And even in some cases the help they want is help you can’t give. It’s unfair to you and it’s unfair to them because they aren’t getting the proper help they need.
Peer pressure can also be more confrontational. People will want, even demand you to do something that you really don’t want to do. They may even threaten you, but the key here is to say no.
When I was in my first year of secondary school, there were some people who wanted me to do something that I did not want to do. They even threatened to drop my pencil case out of the window (the stakes were high- that pencil case was brand new!). However, I still refused and blatantly said I would tell a teacher. They scoffed like they didn’t care, but lo and behold, my pencil case was returned to me. I stayed sitting exactly where I was but they left me alone after that. By saying no you give yourself respect and people will sense that immediately.
To their credit, after five years they’ve matured and grown up completely since then.
That’s another reason why it’s so important to stand up for your values: you have no idea what a profound effect it can have on someone else.
The best way to avoid peer pressure or influence is to find a peer group that respects you and your values. If you’re lucky, you may find this at school, but even if you don’t, remember that school is a setting that’s only temporary.
The people you know now you may not even know in another five years, but you have yourself forever. You don’t want to change yourself for people you won’t even remember in ten years time.
So what do you do amidst the hesitation and the awkward smiles? If you’re not quite feeling up to it (which is fine, by the way) stay away and don’t look back. But if you’re feeling brave enough, say what you think clearly and boldly.
There will be pressure. There always will.
But why does that mean you should give in?