Peer Pressure

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

Not for the first time, in a conversation with a guy about what to buy for a first motorcycle, I was told, “I can’t buy a 650. All of my friends will make fun of me. They say anything under 1200 is a ‘girl’s bike.'” Ignoring the opportunity to say, “all cruisers are girls’ bikes,” I had to marvel at the fact that a 50-something-year-old guy was still worried about what other people said about his stuff. One of the core attributes of being cool is not giving a damn what other people think. So, the moment you begin to worry about peer pressure, you have no hope in hell of being cool.

I told this poor sap a joke/parable that my old Texas friend/mentor/critic, Karl, had laid on me 40 years ago in an attempt to put a similar situation into perspective. A guy rents a hooker and a room. He comes out of the bathroom in his birthday suit and she laughs at him, saying, “Who are you gonna please with that little thing?” He says, “Me.”

Ok, I’m done. There you have the story of my life at its best. When I am on a roll, knocking down personal obstacles in Pareto Analysis Order, being the best me I can pull off, feeling as good as I get to feel, that parable has been my guiding light. It’s my Sermon in the Motel Room. Peer pressure makes smart people dumb and dumb people boss. If nothing else about this useless marketing scheme something to avoid, I’d think it would be that fact.

At the end of another MSF class, when my co-instructor and I were marveling at how driven-by-fashion some of our older students were, I asked, “Why doesn’t peer pressure ever tell people to do the smart thing?” That evening, I was blessed with the wonderful opportunity to get to spend a few hours with my brilliant grandson, Wolf. He and I explored that idea a little further and decided that, on the whole, we’re both satisfied that peer pressure serves a perfectly useful purpose. Since it is always wrong, the instant we can identify peer pressure for what it is, the logical move is to go in the exact opposite direction.

Wolf might be the least outside-motivated person I’ve known in years. My wife and I do about 90% of our clothes shopping second-hand. Like my motorcycles, I’d just as soon someone else take that 50-90% value hit and deal with the break-in hassles. When Wolf was a little guy, he was just as happy to go toy or clothes shopping at our favorite second-hand stores or assorted garage sales as he was with a Target gift certificate or cash.  Now that he’s older, he would just as soon wear his clothes out than shop — anywhere. While we talked, we watched the UofM’s consistently uncool, spoiled, and distracted children of the 1% babble into their iPhones and preen in their designer throwaways and marveled at their uniformity. Style is the commercial mutation of peer pressure and it makes people do some pretty amazingly stupid things.

The end result of that day of evaluating the cause and effect of peer pressure I came to the conclusion that I am happy with the fact that peer pressure is so consistent. Consistency is one huge gaping vacuum in everyday life. There are almost no absolutes in this world, outside of the obvious fact that Karl Rove is on the wrong side of every issue. Finding another absolute truth has terrific value. Since peer pressure is always wrong, I just have to pay attention to what the marching morons are saying and do the opposite. When I’m faced with pressure sales tactics, I close up my mental shop and end the conversation. When faced with peer pressure, I cultivate a predictable reaction: if the mass of humanity thinks south is the way to go, I’m going north; or, maybe, northwest. (You can rarely go wrong putting a little west into any journey.) As a personal hero once wrote, “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible.” Bertrand Russell

That reaction to peer pressure resistance often makes me look gutless. When I was riding with a group of off-road guys a while back, their willingness to barrel around blind curves and over hills amazed me. I have spent at least 300,000 miles of my life riding and driving dirt roads and I do not trust going where I can’t see beyond my stopping distance. I have lost a few friends to oncoming and parked traffic, livestock and wildlife, irrigation-flooded farm roads, and large farm implements on rural roads and I have a serious allergy to meeting a combine or a road-grader at any speed. By the end of the day, I was taking up the back of the pack, putting my usual half-mile between the nearest bike and me. I’m not that fond of eating dust or limited maneuvering space or visibility, so my options are either ride point or trail far in the distance. I have no idea what the group thought of my riding skills (other than my disappointing performance in deep sand on the WRX), but whatever they think, I had fun. I made me happy.

Not that long ago, a BRC student asked how I could reconcile my “safe following distance” recommendations with the “formation requirements” in a group ride.

“Easy. Don’t do group rides.”

She thought that was a terrible suggestion, since riding in a group was her whole reason for owning a motorcycle.

I answered, “I don’t want to be any part of a ‘rolling bowling pin’ configuration and every year there is at least one local incident where one cage takes out a pack of motorcyclists.”

I told her my minimum motorcycle following distance is often a half mile and if that fouls up the formation, I’m good with everyone passing me or going my own way. I am my own peer and nobody puts more pressure on me than me.

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