Ideals and Values/Choosing your Friends from Peers
Peer Pressure on Teenagers:
In the teenage years, a lot of mental and physical changes are occurring in you. It is also the time when you start making close friends and want to experiment and explore new things in your lives. In your younger years, you were totally dependent on your parents but now you become a bit more independent. You like to hang out with your friends and form groups with other teenagers to do fun activities like playing sports, watching movies, doing homework and so on. You might even find your own parents boring and do not want them to be around you at all! To belong to any group, you might feel a pressure to do and like things which every other member of the group also likes. If you want to belong to a group in which teenagers like to play soccer, then you must also like to do so. If you do not play soccer, then how can you belong to that group?
The psychological pressure on oneself to conform to or to follow and imitate what other group members are doing is called peer pressure. There is no harm in your desire to belong to a group of other teenagers with whom you’d want to be friends with. But this does not mean that you do everything, whether right or wrong, to impress them that you are worthy of their group’s membership. Therefore, before falling victim to the peer pressure from that group, you should decide whether that group is really the one that you should join. For example, if the members of a group of teenagers are into smoking and drugs, then you might well avoid it. Why? Because to join it and stay in it, you will be forced to smoke and do drugs like them.
Therefore, in teenage years, where friendships become very strong, and you want to be a part of a fun group, you must listen to your parents and teachers and also use your good judgment in choosing the right type of friends. If you fall into bad company, then it can ruin your entire later life. For example, if you make friends with teenagers who love to drive above the speed limit, there might come a day when you get into an accident, even though you were not the driver of the car, and become paralyzed for your whole life, for no fault of yours! So before succumbing to peer-pressure, consider logically in your mind as to what the goal of your life is, whether you are pursuing friends with the wrong habits and whether association with that group will not lead you into trouble.
Effect of the Company you keep on you:
It has been rightly said that a man is known by the company he keeps. Good people avoid bad people and bad people like to associate with other bad people which is not true sometimes. But even a good person is perceived as bad by others if his friends have a questionable character. A Hindi proverb says, “Even if the most clever person goes into a coal-mine, he cannot prevent his clothes to get soiled by black marks.” The meaning is that no matter how clever and good we are, bad company surely starts affecting us in the course of time before we even realize it. The following story illustrates this fact-
A gardener was proceeding towards his master’s house one morning, with a flower-pot on his head; and in the flower-pot was a beautiful, green plant growing which the gardener had taken immense pains to nourish. On the way, he met his shepherd friend who was going to his house with a sheep slung on his shoulders. The gardener had not met the shepherd for some time. He greeted the shepherd with a big smile and the two began to talk. When the exchange of news came to an end, they went their way. The gardener wanted to take a look at the plant, before he entered the master’s house. He lowered the pot from his head. To his horror, he discovered that there was not a leaf left in it, and that it was all but a bare stem. The sheep which his friend had around his shoulders had eaten away all the leaves while he was busy talking to him. How could he enter his master’s house without the plant? He, therefore, returned to the garden, sorely disappointed.
A book of stories for kids says that an evil person is like a piece of coal – it blackens our hand when cold and burns when hot. Therefore, we should just stay away from evil persons whether they treat us with friendship or with enmity. A saint poet, Sundara Pandya said very correctly in the 7th cent. CE:
Avoid even the sight of foolish men. If one does see them, then avoid their company. If one does fall into the company of foolish men, then let him keep silent. And if one does have to speak amongst them, then let him speak too like them to avoid trouble.
Having Self Confidence and Self Respect:
You must never feel small when you see other students who have better looks, better grades, who wear better and cooler clothes and shoes and whose parents are richer. Everyone in this world has some unique skills and talents and so do you. If there are people who are superior to you, so are there millions who are less fortunate than you are. Should they feel sadder than you for their less valuable gifts from Bhagavān? You should always instead thank Bhagavān for everything that He has given, even if it does not look sufficient to you. Reason with yourself how precious the human birth itself is! It is a unique opportunity for you to make the right choices and to make progress in your life towards all of its goals and these goals do not include making yourself feel small by comparing yourself to others who are richer, more beautiful, more intelligent or cooler than you are. Your primary friendship is with Bhagavān and with others like your parents, siblings and with your true friends because they love you for who you are and just the way you are.
Finding Your True Friends
Many a times, you might try very hard to belong to some group, but its members do not show any respect for you. They make fun of you or even bully you. And if at all, you do participate in some of their fun activities, you end up realizing that they have merely used you. For example, some ‘friends’ who have no respect for you may suddenly show up at your place when they learn that you have the latest video game available in the market. These friends are not your real friends. They are merely selfish people who just want to use something unique you have. And once they are done using your unique possession of when you are in trouble, they will abandon you immediately and will wash their hands off you.
So who is a true friend? Sant Tulsidas has given the following characteristics of a true friend in his works:
- A true friend becomes sad whenever you are in a bad situation, and he is happy when you are happy.
- He tries to help you as much as he can. He does not run away from you when you are in trouble.
- If you acquire a bad habit, or if you are taking a bad decision, a true friend will try best to correct you and to help you make the correct decision. He will not worry about, “My friend will get upset if I tell him the truth, so let me just say to him what he wants to hear,” but instead he will always give you the advice that will truly benefit you. Conversely, he helps you acquire and enhance your good habits.
- He will never talk bad about you behind your back. If he has a grudge against you, he will talk to you openly and directly.
- He always feels happy to see you.
- A true friend always tells his true feelings and thoughts to you and does not hide anything from you.
In his collection of proverbs, the Saint and poet Sundara Pandya (before 7th cent CE) gives some very useful advice regarding friendship in the following words -
“Following are the characteristics of a bad friend- making fun of their friend in public, showing friendship only as long as some benefit is obtained from the relationship, and not forgetting the bad deeds of his friend towards him.”
“Friendship with the good grows day by day. Friendship of the wicked is opposite in nature to this.”
“Just as a chameleon changes colors, the low and wicked too put on three different colors. At first, he acts as relative, next as a friend and at the end, he turns out to be an enemy.”
“One should retain formal courtesy only as long as friendship has not been achieved. Once friendship is acquired, formal courtesy is a sign of deceit.”
So these are the criteria by which you should judge whether you should be friends with someone or not. Mere ‘peer pressure’ is not the correct way to make friends.
Story: Kṛṣṇa, the true friend of Sudāmā Kṛṣṇa had a classmate in school whose name was Sudama. They were very good friends. After their studies were over, Kṛṣṇa started living in the city of Dwaraka. He married a princess, and became the king of Dwaraka. Kṛṣṇa was now very rich, famous and powerful. But he never forgot his friend Sudama. After finishing studies, Sudama married and had a few children. He and his family lived in a village. They were very poor. On some days, Sudama did not even have food to feed his children. One day, his wife got very upset because the kids had to go to bed hungry. She said to Sudama, “Please go to Kṛṣṇa. He is your friend. If you ask him for money, he will help you.”
Sudama said, “I will go to see my friend. But I am too shy to ask for any help. Kṛṣṇa used to love poha. I am seeing him after many years. So let me take some poha as a gift for him.” Sudama’s wife went to a neighbor and borrowed some poha. Sudama then left for Dwaraka.
When Sudama reached Kṛṣṇa’s palace after a few days, he told the guard, “Tell your king that his childhood friend Sudama is here.” As soon as Kṛṣṇa learned that Sudama was at the door of his palace, he ran out of his room. When he saw Sudama, Kṛṣṇa hugged him. Kṛṣṇa was so happy that his eyes became full of tears. Kṛṣṇa then took Sudama inside his palace. There, Kṛṣṇa asked Sudama to sit on his own throne. Then he washed Sudama’s feet because Sudama had walked a long distance. He asked his queen to bring him food for Sudama and then he fed Sudama with his own hands. After dinner, the two friends started chatting about their good times when they were classmates. Suddenly, Kṛṣṇa noticed that Sudama had brought a bag of poha as a gift. He snatched it from Sudama and started eating it hungrily. Sudama said, “My friend Kṛṣṇa, I was ashamed to give this poha to you. It is just ordinary food. And you are a rich king. So I thought that this gift is not good enough for you.” Kṛṣṇa laughed and said, “This is the best gift that I could have got. My dear friend has given this gift to me with great love.”
Next morning, Sudama said goodbye to Kṛṣṇa and left for his home. He was so happy because he met his friend after many years. But, Sudama never asked Kṛṣṇa for any help. When Sudama reached his home after some days, he was surprised to find that his hut was no longer there. In its place, there was a mansion. Suddenly, Sudama’s wife and children came out wearing beautiful clothes. His wife said, “While you were away, Kṛṣṇa asked his people to make this mansion for you and us.” Sudama smiled. Now he understood what a good friend Kṛṣṇa was. Sudama did not even ask Kṛṣṇa for help, but Krishna knew what Sudama needed, and gave it to him.
Teach Good Habits to others, especially to your Friends
One day, Guru Nanak and his companion named Mardana passed through a village. The villagers did not greet their visitors and did not offer them any food or place to rest. Instead, they abused Guru Nanak and Mardana. But, the Guru did not feel upset at all. Instead, he left the village promptly and blessed its inhabitants saying, “May your village thrive and its people never get uprooted.”
Then, Mardana and Guru Nanak reached another village, whose inhabitants were very good natured. They welcomed their visitors, fed them and offered them a place to stay. When the Guru left the village, he cursed the people there, “May you all get uprooted and get scattered in all directions.” Mardana was really puzzled when he heard this, and asked the Guru for an explanation. Guru Nanak explained, “I wish that the residents of the first village do not spread out and teach their bad mannerisms to others. On the other hand, I want that the good villagers in the second village should spread out in all directions and set an example for everyone.”
Notes & References
- Parables of Swami Śivānanda. The Divine Life Society. Tehri-Garhwal (Uttaranchal), India; pages 67-68
- Nītidvishashtikā of Sundara Pāndya, verse 19
- Nītidvishashtikā of Sundara Pāndya, verse 46
- Nītidvishashtikā of Sundara Pāndya, verse 16
- Nītidvishashtikā of Sundara Pāndya, verse 47
- Nītidvishashtikā of Sundara Pāndya, verse 53
- It is a rice dish.