The Lethal Side Of Relationships

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


All of us have read those little articles (and heard the songs) exclaiming how children come into this world full of curiosity, lacking any fear or prejudice, and how the adults and 'the system' gradually beat that out of them through rote education practices and insistence on conformity. Another brick in the wall. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

Great song, maybe dead wrong: It's the other kids who can be nastiest on that front. Megan and I were talking to a waitress the other day and I complemented her on her very cool name, which was Jerenita. You just know that when her parents gave her that name, they wanted her to be the most unique, interesting and beautiful person on the planet. Here's what she said: "I like it now, but it was hell when I was going through school, the other kids were merciless."

Peer pressure - the requirement to conform in order to belong - is (I humbly suggest) the most powerful, soul deadening, and perhaps 'individualism crushing' force there is. As parents, we all watch with great trepidation as our kids choose their friends, because we know that those choices will have a huge impact on whether our kids end up successful, or just trying to successfully navigate the justice system.

The problem is, it doesn't end in high school. When I got dressed for work today, I carefully chose a light blue business shirt, a navy jacket, tan pants, and black loafers - shined. Same as it ever was.

I don't believe that people resist new thinking, innovative initiative, or risky ventures because they might fail, or because it takes them outside their comfort zone into a big unknown. I think it's because - essentially - they are afraid of being teased by their workmates. Of standing all alone. Of being 'talked about' by the crowd. As Warren Buffet observed, everyone makes fun of lemmings, but no-one ever criticizes any individual lemming. Death as the ultimate peer pressure, and there are lots of ways of dying.

Relationships are the most important thing in life. They are what will bring us all the most joy. Unless, perhaps, they become so important to us that they stamp out our courage and our individuality and our opportunity to strive for and create what we are capable of creating.

We are all Jerenita's, just as our parent wished on the day we were born. Maybe the only relationships that matter are the ones that remain after we have first stood all alone, entirely on our own. Maybe those are the only relationships we've truly earned. Maybe the Talking Heads had it all over Pink Floyd. Today I resolve to screw up my courage, change into that checkered jacket and part my hair in the middle. Live on the edge. Same as it ever wasn't.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for the cheesy baby boomer rock references. (It was too easy.)