“A War for Our Minds…”

October 26, 2007
By Lia Mitchell, Newton, MA

“A War for Our Minds…”
Lia Mitchell

Why should my opinion have to match yours? It shouldn't, but that doesn't stop some people from trying to get others to share their beliefs. We all deal with peer pressure whether we admit it or not, and often we are the people who pressure others, but that doesn't mean people should give into the demands.

Too many people in our society are weak. I don't mean weak of strength, but weak of the mind. Our society is full of pressure; there are advertisements on every corner and commercials every fifteen minutes. They tell us how to look, that we need money to make a difference, that appearance is more important than opinions, and that everyone should be the same. But why should we give in? Everyone has the right to be an individual and be themselves, but often people don't get that chance because they are bombarded with so many of other peoples' opinions that they can't decide on what theirs is. Usually when this happens people just give up and turn their beliefs to match the majority of others. This shouldn't happen. People need to take a step back and find who they are and what they stand for, but when?

In the 1970's one Israeli organization of researchers decided to try and figure out when. They started by asking a group of thirteen year olds what their beliefs were. Then, they waited. The organization had to wait until the children were eighteen before they could continue their research. When the group was eighteen, the researchers went back and asked them what their beliefs were now, what they stood for. Imagine the change; at thirteen most of them had had their own opinions and beliefs, but at eighteen their views were more similar. The toll that peer pressure had taken on them in those five years was visible. But, the research wasn't completed. Again, they waited; this time for the adolescents to become adults, and turn thirty. When that time came they went back to the group for one last time to finish their research and make their conclusions. Were their beliefs at thirty closer to their beliefs when they were thirteen or eighteen? Thirteen. More of the thirty year old adults had views closer to their views as diverse thirteen year olds, than conformed eighteen year olds. The organization used their research to conclude that what most people believe at thirteen, they will believe when they are adults.

So, now that you know when, you probably want to know how to decide on your own views, right? That answers going to be different for every individual, but think about this. Some people think better in writing or talking or running. Personally, I think better in running; meaning that when I get stuck on a problem or can't make-up my mind on something, I run. I don't mean I run away, but I run around the block, to the park, whatever I need to do to clear my head. Running doesn't work for everyone though. Some people keep a diary or a blog, and pour their thoughts out there to organize them. Whatever works? Think about this, too. People may have the same friends from elementary school through high school, or college through grad school, but those two groups will probably comprise of different people. Plus, once they start their own life they're going to have to find another group. Now, those groups may all share the same beliefs, but that's not very likely. So, do they want to change their views every time they make new friends, or have their own opinions that they are proud to believe in? I would choose my own opinions because I'm not going to have to deal with the same people my whole life, but I am going to have to live with myself my whole life.

So, I'm going to be carrying my beliefs with me wherever I go, but am I going to be carrying more? In my opinion, yes; I'll be carrying your past and my present and my future with me. Bringing my past will probably be the heaviest of these loads. It includes what I've done, how I've been, acted, and responded. If I'm going to be bringing that with me I want to feel good about it. I don't want to just be responsible for my past, I want to be proud of it. This means that every time I act I want to feel like I've done the right thing. This probably isn't possible, but that doesn't mean I can't try. Also, if I do do the wrong thing, I want to be able to recognize and accept that I made a mistake and be able to learn from it. Now, the present. The present is small, but heavy. It's small because it only lasts a second, until it becomes the past, and heavy because of how small it is. It affects the past and future so much, so quickly because every second goes into the past and every action changes what will happen in the future. Lastly, the future. The future will probably be the medium weighed load. It may have all of my dreams and goals, but those are constantly changing. My future changes with every decision I make and every action I take. Also, because it changes so frequently it can't doesn't carry much more than a semi-immediate future. That future becomes the present and then the past and I'm quickly responsible for my decision. All of this means that I have to make a conscientious effort to do the responsible thing.

Now, at least half of you are probably thinking, “But to be popular we have to agree with what the people more popular than us think, and do what they want so that we fit in.” Well, you don't. First, people shouldn't have to compromise their individuality for popularity. If they do, that probably just means that the popular kids don't have any more of a clue what they're doing than anyone else; they have to get everyone else to think that they're right in order for them to believe themselves. Basically, they probably don't have much self-inspired self-confidence. Second, if they're making you do things that you don't want to, or normally wouldn't do, that's hazing and in many situations, it's illegal. In addition, it probably means that they're lazy-butts and can't do their work for themselves, so why should others do two peoples' workload? They shouldn't, but many people don't stand up for themselves and do others' work. Third, why do people want to be popular? To have everyone like them or to get more attention? Those should happen on their own accord. People should like them because of the way they act and their personality, not the way they dress or how much money they have. In addition, they should get attention for the way they handle themselves and how they treat others. Peer pressure makes most of us do things that we wouldn't do in other situations, and that we soon regret.

So, how do we deal with the pressure, but not give into it? For me, it's simple. I think about how I want people to think about me. Do I want them to see me as a responsible, levelheaded human, or an unaccountable, senseless teenager? I prefer the former. That's how I deal with peer pressure. For some people it might be harder to decide what you believe, but maybe this quote will encourage you to not give in to the pressure. It's from a book, Stand Tall, by one of my all-time favorite authors, Joan Bauer, “We're all fighting a war whether we know it or not - a war for our minds and souls and what we believe in…”

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