OPINION – No one should be fearful of being seen as a good person. Still, a lot of us are.
Peer pressure is a tricky thing. The very human desire to be accepted or, at the very least, to avoid being marginalized can deeply skew our perception of ourselves and the world around us.
For instance, the friends with whom I attended high school and junior high weren’t bad kids. We all did stupid or senseless things from time to time yet there was no malevolence in our hearts.
Even so, few of us wanted to risk being labeled as a square.
For some reason there was a stigma attached to those individuals who possessed above average virtue. It wasn’t that they were heavily persecuted so much as no one wanted to be identified as such.
We were afraid of being punished for being perceived as better. Not as better than everyone else around us but as unwilling to submit to the fashions and whims of our budding social order.
The rules were pretty simple. If you wanted to be accepted by the partiers, you had to party. If you wanted to be accepted by the players, you had to be willing to be a player. It wasn’t rocket science.
For some it was a matter of cultivating popularity. For most of us, however, it was simply trying to blend into the crowd so as not to attract too much scrutiny.
In hindsight, I have a growing admiration for those who bore our scorn and skepticism. Their willingness to be true to themselves was stronger than their desire for short-term, fleeting accolades.
Contrary to the expected holier-than-thou stereotypes, these humble individuals generally treated everyone around them with respect. They were more likely to accept others as they were with kindness, patience and empathy.
We could not say the same about how we tended to treat them.
More than a few suffered for nothing more than exercising their moral compass and refusing to seek the approval of the ruling groupthink of our peers.
Our passage into adulthood was almost universally marked by a profound relief that the need for our peers’ approval had finally come to an end. Or so we thought.
The intense peer pressure we faced as teens was nothing compared to the difficulty of trying to avoid being assimilated into our current social and political climate.
For example, in our current tumultuous election year, there is a great deal of temptation to cast our lot with one clique or another–even if only in ideological terms. There is strong emphasis on the need to submit to the expectations or rules that others wish to place on us.
The problem we face is much the same as the one we faced in our formative years. How well do our virtues line up with the virtues of the ruling systems of our world?
Paul Rosenberg notes that being a good rule keeper isn’t what makes us better people. Truth be told, the worst atrocities that humanity has ever allowed to happen, took place because people followed rules made by rulers with evil intent.
It was obedient people, not good people, who have followed the rules to imprison and slaughter others by the millions.
More often than not, the people who have elevated the thinking and behavior of mankind were those who found a way to rise above what their hierarchies demanded.
The ruling systems of our time do much better when exerting influence over individuals who are indecisive, weak or easily intimidated. They encourage us to pressure one another to conform and to punish those who question or reject their rules.
The question that each of us must eventually ask ourselves is whether we are individually more morally sound than the systems seeking to rule us.
If we are the kind of people who are continually striving to improve as human beings, the answer should be yes.
It’s okay to be seen as square.
This is the kind of inner realization that gives us the courage to stand firm in our virtues regardless of how others perceive us or treat us. It’s the kind of epiphany that sparks real change where it’s necessary.
What we do with that knowledge is our choice to make.
When we acknowledge that a particular system or clique is unworthy of our efforts, we become free to start making our own decisions and creating something better. We don’t have to wait for that system to give us its permission.
The hardest part is losing our fear of being seen as a good person.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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