From the very moment we are born, we are instilled with the ideals and beliefs of the environment that we are in. Usually, our parents teach us these values, and live our lives knowing these values. However, as we get older, we are introduced to the beliefs of others, and these may run contradictory to what we are initially taught. As a result, we are told to resist these "outside" influences—sometimes they say it's for our own good, sometimes it's out of ignorance due to the parents. Regardless of the reason, though, we become aware of the outside world. Sooner or later, we experience the conflict between the ideals that we are taught to follow and the ideals that others try to implant into us, sometimes without us knowing explicitly what these ideals are. At that point, the question is: When should you follow your own beliefs, and when should you follow new beliefs?

When I refer to the conflict between the ideals of an individual and the ideals of another person or group, I am stating that there is a sliding scale between beliefs shown in how a person acts. For example, most people would agree that there is a clear difference in the ideals of a traditional, cautious person versus a nonconforming, adventurous person. Although it is true that sometimes people may share some ideals in common, overall there is a general "ideal" that a person's sub-ideals average to. It's also common sense that people tend to identify with others who share ideals and the sub-ideals that make up his or her "common identity"—as the well-known phrase goes, "Birds of a feather flock together." The more ideals or beliefs you share with another person, the easier it is for you to also change yourself to their beliefs, as every person has dispositions to ideals that are more or less traditional or open-minded. The smaller the degree of difference between what you believe and what someone else believes, the easier it is for you to change in relation to their beliefs. Sometimes, however, people might have big changes in what they believe, even if it may make them feel uncomfortable. How? Peer pressure.

We've all heard about peer pressure. Many times, it is used in a negative connotation. If a person who had never drank alcohol, for example, was invited by close friends to a party and "peer pressured" by them to imbibe several shots of vodka, some people might say that the peer pressure negatively influenced the person. On the other hand, however, others might say that it could be a valuable learning lesson for him, allowing him to gain valuable insight into how much he can tolerate while being protected by his friends, while making new connections and friends. Was this change in ideals justified from not just society's view, but also the person's?

My answer to this is to change his distrusting demeanor to a more kind and friendly one. It would be easier for him to bond and make relationships with others, allowing him to get extra help and learn more knowledge from others, which would help fulfill his ideal of learning. After all, it's impossible to be successful in life without some help from others, much less simply surviving from day to day. It would also make his life happier and more enjoyable from experiences with others, both good and bad. However, I haven't answered the actual question—when should you change, and when should you resist the influence of others? Honestly, I don't have a concrete answer. The question is completely subjective, so there's no real right or wrong answer. Saying you should change your beliefs or ideals because it will "improve" your life and make it "better" may not be wrong, but it's also not right—it sounds too ambiguous. This is what I think, I say to myself, since it is in accordance with my beliefs. However, every time I hear people "changing" themselves for the better, every time I make a decision that I normally would not have made had I been alone, every time I tell others my ideals, I am intrigued and haunted by this question:

Is it really "me" thinking, or is it that society or a group has "peer pressured" me into stating what is acceptable only to them?

— Jan Urbano is a junior in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu.