Peer pressure gets a bad rap. Since elementary school you’ve been taught “Don’t give in to peer pressure!”–an oversimplification of a generally good principle: don’t let other people tell you what think or how to act, be your own person and make good choices.
I’m here to tell you how this is fundamentally flawed.
What Mrs. Andrews (what? Your kindergarten teacher wasn’t named Mrs. Andrews? Deal with it.) didn’t tell you was how important peer pressure was, and is, to our development as individuals. We are social creatures, and learning from what our friends do and taking on those attitudes is essential to discovering and expressing who we are. Sure, Mrs. Andrews wasn’t all wrong: the “Don’t do drugs” bit still holds some weight, and if all my friends jumped off the Harvard bridge… well, actually, come to think of it, I can swim across the Charles…
My point is: peer pressure isn’t always bad. Listening to your friends, and letting them affect you, can have an incredibly good influence. But this is all pretty abstract. Let me get to the point.
My hair is purple.
Let’s be frank: dyed hair is a stereotype of my dorm, East Campus (among other dorms), and it’s one of the true ones. Looking around just my floor, I see Vicki and Lex with blue hair, Kerry and Clark with purple, Sarah and Decker with red, Duncan with green– and that’s in just one walk down the hallway! People keep hair bleach and a variety of colors close at hand, and if you still have your natural hair color, you’re an exception to the rule.
Even more so than hair dye, peer pressure is pretty prevalent here. For example, a lot of people I live with really like climbing, rappelling, and caving. They like it so much that they introduce freshmen to these activities, inviting us to climb at MIT’s bouldering wall or go on trips to caves on the weekends. As another example, there are loads of people around who love cooking, and cooking well. Upperclassmen invite freshmen to cook with them, or to be in a food co-op with them. (yes, I remember I promised you a food coop post. Its coming, sometime, I swear!) The examples stretch on: some people like knitting, some people like spinning poi. So long as a few people are around with a particular interest, like dyed hair, peer pressure makes the trend spread around. Everyone here is a reflection of some common “culture”– a culture that really is made up of a mix of everyone’s interests.
It’s pretty clear to me that this form of peer pressure is not at all bad. Everyone at MIT has a passion of some sort, and spreading these passions to others is a natural extension of how much we love what we do. But on some level I don’t think it’s fair to call it peer pressure. People get interested in the same things as their neighbors, not because they feel pressured to, but because they can see how awesome those things are. You will almost certainly experience this effect at some point in your life, and its something you should embrace.
I didn’t dye my hair purple because I felt pressured by all of the untraditional hair colors around me. The people in my dorm didn’t pressure me, they talked to me. I learned about why they dyed their hair. I heard their opinions: that it doesn’t matter what colors society thinks hair should be; if you think something would look good, you should try it. And I discovered I agreed with them: why should blonde and brunette and black and redhead be the only acceptable colors? Wouldn’t purple look awesome?
Yeah, I think it does.