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23 January 2010 @ 00:31
the pressure to conform  
If you are on the main page of my blog "Beauty from Inside", please click on the link that will appear below to read part one of a series on "the pressure to conform".  Otherwise, scroll down to read.

Feel free to leave comments, as always- no livejournal account is required.  Originally "the pressure to conform" was one article, but I decided to split it up into 3-part series because of its length.  It discusses the the pressure to conform, some of the major ways that people are tempted to conform, and leaves you with some food for thought. It includes discussions about modesty and holding to your standards.  To read parts 2 and 3 that continue this article series, visit the links: 

http://hannahzuzu.livejournal.com/32904.html - Part 2 (discussion about the pressure to dress immodestly, hang with the wrong crowd, imitate those who do wrong, and be an icon)

http://hannahzuzu.livejournal.com/33105.html - Part 3 (food for thought: dressing for attention, the media, peer pressure, looking for validation, and more)

The Pressure to Conform


    We all, at one time or another, encounter people and situations that make our lives more difficult.  Everyone has an opinion, it seems, and individuals are usually more than willing to state their beliefs, whether or not their thoughts are encouraged or helpful.  Usually conflict ensues when other people question our moral values or ask us to prove our beliefs, rather than seeing our beliefs as credible as those of another person.  How can you remain firm and unbending in what you choose to believe, and how you choose to live? 
    The pressure to conform can be great.  Peer groups are not the only forces to affect our lives- friends, young or old- family, co-workers, bosses and society in general all try to shape us into something different.  We don't always pay attention to the subtle messages that other people send us.  When their intentions become fully apparent, we too often must deal with the consequences of not having been more observant previously, which could have helped us to avoid negative situations or pressures in the first place.  Instead, we are forced to deal with them head-on.
    As human beings, we look to others and guage their reactions toward us to understand part of ourselves.  Rather than making judgments based on ourselves solely by what we know to be true, we many times get caught up on the negative things that people say about us, or that we think they think about us.  This is one reason why many people have a hard time stating their beliefs and opinions publicly.  We look to others for positive affirmation about who we are.  When people respond negatively to the things we say or do, the easiest action to take is usually to conform so that other people will like us.  
    We like to be liked.  Humans strive for affection and attention.  We look to others to fill this basic need in us, and when they dissappoint, it can be all too easy to think that there is something wrong with us that must be altered.  An example of this is the way in which we dress.  We may alter our appearance to try and gain affection and attention.  This is one reason why one after another more moral-minded figures in the public eye start off strong, but their resolve to hold by their beliefs may dwindle soon after they have attention.  When you have other people's attention and affection, you strive to keep it.  When you dissappoint people, you may dissappoint yourself in the process - another person's opinion becomes your ruling guideline, rather than heeding truth and reality.  You might find your standards about the way you dress or behave slipping, because it is important to you to be highly esteemed by others.  In a quest to be liked, people strip their morals and become like the crowd.    
    Author Shannon Kubiak Primicerio pointed out in her book The Divine Dance that we should be focused on pleasing an "audience of one"- Christ.  Rather than looking to the world to affirm who we are and what we're doing, we need to look to God for true encouragement, and experience His pleasure when we do something right- even if the world says that what we choose to do is wrong.  Life isn't really about standing in the middle of a fence- it's about defending one kingdom or another- one of darkness, that shall be overthrown, or one of glory that belongs to God and will prevail.  When we try to please the world, we are putting on our best show to no avail.  Wearing certain clothing or living in a ceartin way does not guarantee you popularity.  In fact, many times when you put out the effort to please people, they may view you as an object, rather than as an individual.  Your actions, clothing and lifestyle speak volumes about who you are and what you believe in, and the world wants access to these aspects of yourself.  It wants to use you as a puppet to keep you from accomplishing the great things you can do for God.  In my mind, I picture a candle in a dark room- if you snuff it out, how shall anyone see a reflection of Christ's power?  The world wants to do everything it can to keep that flame from glowing.  One day everything will shine with God's glory, but until then, it is our responsibilitly to not allow every corner to be dismal and dark.      
    This doesn't mean that it's wrong to be in a position of fame or power, if that fame or power is morally gained or given!  Rather, be famous for doing and believing what is right.  Being in the spotlight can be a blessing, as Queen Esther used her position for the good of her people- but we should not seek to become rich, but to add riches to heaven.  Use your position in life to point other people toward truth, not popular opinion.  The Kingdom of God is not a Democracy- it only works when people allow God to be the King of their lives.  It is important to remember that before Queen Esther came to power, there was another queen in power, who had the courage to refuse to be immodestly shown to people gathered with the king.  Both of these queens show what it means to use power wisely, and not to abuse it.       
    No matter what issue you take a side on, you are going to be looked down on by someone: there is always an opposing side, like light and the absence of light.  Rather than flirting with darkness, allow yourself to live as a bright light in dark places.  The easiest way to do this?  STOP CARING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE 
THINK ABOUT YOU WHEN IT IS IN CONFLICT WITH WHAT IS RIGHT.  What if they laugh at me?  What if they think I'm dumb or crazy?  What if they...?  What if's can be paralyzing- but God's thoughts on life are way more important than other people's feelings and fautly judgments about you.  Care about what is morally obligatory and pure and noble, not the applause other people give you that makes you feel important.  This is one of the most freeing concepts.  It doesn't mean that you should be nasty toward people.  It doesn't mean that you should be inconsiderate or not tactful when someone tries to draw you into a heated argument- but it does mean realizing how you can gain strength when you feel weak enough to give in to the wrong things that people tell you to do- and it can help you not to back down on important issues, even when it's hard to be "different".   
    Communicate with people- do your best to explain to them the truth with an attitude of loving kindness, but don't submit into doing something wrong, just because others look down on you for taking a stand- and remember that when others are looking down on you for doing something right, God isn't.   
    Please don't misunderstand- it's not wrong to get joy out of giving a great acting, dancing or singing performance, or to be happy when someone likes your artwork.  It's also not wrong to take truthful criticism or to be involved in a friendly debate- but as soon as something someone says comes in conflict with what is right and morally correct, there is no reason to give in to what others say just to gain their approval.  The only approval that is important is that of God.  This is a key toward becoming confident, content and happy with your circumstances.  It's also a key toward not expecting perfection out of people in your life relationships.  When you can allow other people to be human and your God to be God, your whole life can be made much easier.  It can help you overcome painful shyness.  It can help you not to be hindered from accomplishing the tasks God gives you.  It can help you to realize your full potential, and to contribute to your friendships and other relationships in a positive and understanding fashion, rather than backing down on moral issues.  It doesn't mean that you should become argumentative or dominating in turn, but that you should be confident in your God.  Become comfortable speaking in public.  When someone makes a negative comment about your beliefs, don't mutter something meaningless with cast-down eyes.  Learn to be a positive truth-spreader. 
    It's okay if you're called narrow-minded or sheltered for being different.  It's okay if you have standards of modesty and speech.  It's also okay if people ignore you ore make fun of you- your value does not come from what those people think of you.  It comes from your relationship with the God who made and loves you.