We all have expectations, whether they are societal pressures to mold into a specific style or to act in a certain manner. Too often as young adults, we capitulate to these external pressures, forgoing our own individuality because, well, it’s easier to give in than stand up for ourselves.
Many of these pressure are not overtly apparent: snide looks over tacky dresses or quiet giggles over another bombed test. Yet these are sometimes the hardest to resist because there is nothing tangible to fight. The quintessential bully in the schoolyard forcing younger victims to forgo their lunch money can be fought off―he is responsible for his actions and his unethical coercions.
But the pot-head friend sparing a disgusted look over rejecting his offer of shared relaxation is not so easy to stand up to. You know that the brawny bully is in the wrong, and he can be held accountable to the authorities. But the allure of the friendly offer falls more in the gray area. Ethically, it may be against your morals, yet you don’t want to insult your friend or risk the social discomfort of refusal.
By giving in though, we lose sense of what we truly believe. In general, individuals want to stick to their morals. With the group dynamic, the pressures are not for inaction: the majority implicitly pushes people to act, and this call is often contradictory to individual beliefs. If the majority of people at a social gathering are toting glasses of water, while only a few sip alcoholic beverages, then there is no tacit obligation for anyone to drink. The issue arises when more people have alcoholic beverages. Then the minority is influenced to fit in and conform, regardless of their beliefs. To choose not to drink becomes a more difficult choice because of the social pressures.
This leads to a loss in internal motivations. Being estranged from others is not enjoyable. Belonging to a group elicits a feeling of safety―thus the herd mentality holds a certain allure. Individuality becomes uncomfortable.
This is especially apparent in how people dress. Society presents images to teens of certain fashion models, be it skater, goth, preppy, or scantily-clad. The media televises idols clad in gaudy robes and spiffy suits. Thus, we aspire to fit in with those ideas simply because it is easier than finding our own style. The motivation to dress shifts from comfort and personal taste to looking good. Those who do wear less popular but perhaps more comfortable or more affordable clothes face judgments by their peers .
As children, we never cared how we or others dressed. Our parents would shop for us, browsing the bargain rack or even buying brand name styles. Yet no one really noticed the difference―or at least the differences weren’t important. We were relatively free. Ironically, when we started growing up, the time when we as teenagers began to seek our own individuality, the cycle of shunning those who stood out began. In general we became aware of those social and peer pressures in a new way, and began to capitulate to them. In our quest for individuality, we lost it.
This succumbing to outside beliefs and pressures is a mistake. As young adults struggling to identify our own self and seek independence, we should stand up for our own beliefs.