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Monday, February 08th, 2010 | Author:
Resisting Peer Pressure

Resisting Peer Pressure

Of course, many will quickly respond that no, you should always tell the truth. But just as quick to respond are the legions of people that would lie just a little bit in order to spare someone’s feelings.

While the battle between should and shouldn’t will continue to rage for future generations, we can probably all agree that even if you should in theory always tell the truth, not every battle need be fought today. As Gramma used to say: discretion is the better part of valor.

While we (in the US) use the word elegant as a proxy for glamorous, the French use it to indicate a developed social grace, what we would call a certain je ne sais quoi. Here in America we don’t really have a common word, or even a common phrase that is used for this quality. Which is probably why we use the French term for “duh, I dunno” to describe it.

While I can say “social grace” and you probably get some idea what I mean, it’s not a concept frequently discussed or very well defined in our culture. I’m not sure if our lack of a word reflects our lack of value for social grace in general, or if our lack of social grace reflects our lack of a word and a national dialog on the matter. Regardless, it is an often overlooked quality and the essential ingredient in any recipe for maintaining your integrity and staying true to your beliefs. It is that elegant middle ground between tactless and spineless that so few seem to master.

Yet, even without a clearly defined concept, each of us knows at least one person that somehow seems to float above the petty and the meaningless, radiating an aura of grace, blending connectedness, and tact, while never straying far from their core beliefs. When in doubt, imagine what this person would do. Imagine how they would handle the situation that you are facing.

So getting back to our original question, yes, you should tell truth but yes you should also be as respectful as possible and spare the feelings of others from unnecessary bruising. There are many techniques you can develop that will help you avoid having to lie while still being respectful and elegant.

One valuable technique is to reverse a request for affirmation with a gently probing (yet sensitive) question. For example, a close friend asks you “was I wrong to bla bla” and you feel compelled to say “oh no, of course not” even though you know your friend was in the wrong. The challenge here is to be honest while not undermining either your friend or your friendship. By reversing with a question, you can disagree gently, and give your friend a chance to explore their error. For example, you could say “I dunno, I know you’re sensitive to bla bla’s games… but did it require that strong of a response?” Here you are reaffirming your friend’s source of offense, while neither supporting nor rejecting the validity of what was done.

The signal that you should have picked up on above was when you felt compelled. That pressure, whether a friend seeking affirmation or peer pressure in a group, is a sure sign than your integrity is about to be compromised. Often the same approach can be applied successfully. Namely, agree with the feelings and question without quite disagreeing with the actions.

Sometimes an alternative could be to agree with the actions reluctantly, while pointing out that there may be other points of view. Or you could point out that if the roles were reversed, you doubt that the opinions would stay the same. And if pointing it out seems a little strong, you could ask if rather than state that.

While there are countless techniques you can employ to deflect the pressure to lie, they all have one thing in common: they all can be employed to preserve your integrity in the face of a complex reality.