21 May 2016
Today is Vesak Day in Singapore.
I went with NTUBS friends to Buddhist Fellowship in the morning, enjoying their Vesak Carnival, met some seniors, and listened to the Dharma talk. Today, the talk was quite “light” but still inspiring. The venerable talked about the significance of Three Refuges and Five Precepts. After that, I went back to NTU, to catch up with an online meeting with Indonesian Wikipedia admins, but the internet connection is bad so I can’t really join their meeting.
I’d like to spend this Vesak to reflect on authenticity, more specifically, on peer pressuring and conformity.
An instance of peer pressuring can be found this morning too. At BF, after the Dharma talk, there was a meal offering to the venerable, and almost all of my friends went to buy some food and offer. But since I ever joined that kind of offering ceremony as an usher (to collect excess food), I realized that there was way too much food that is being offered, and hence I’m quite reluctant to do so. I tried to avoid my friends to peer pressuring me to do so, because in reality, I do not want to do so. I believe that my resources could be better off by doing other thing.
I think that peer pressuring to do good deeds is much better than peer pressure of doing bad deeds. It requires much more conscious effort to hold on not to do bad deeds than that of good deeds. Maybe one example that I can think of is drinking alcohol, though not really “bad”, generally in Buddhism it is instructed specifically not to do so, as when one is drunk, one cannot control one’s action and can easily commit many real bad deeds. Peer pressuring may arise when one go into a social event where everyone is drinking but you’re not. I met this situation last year in Wikimania 2015; where there was an after-event party, with dance floor, alcoholic beverages, and smokes; but realizing that I can’t stand it, I left and went back to my room.
But maybe the most dangerous peer pressure exists in group work, where a certain idea rules the group unanimously and everyone else conforms and did not voice out their own real views, making the group worse off as there are no alternatives being considered beforehand. This phenomenon is called groupthink. One way to see this phenomenon is due to peer pressure of maintaining group harmony to the maximum level, where no conflict arises among the group members.
Not saying that conformity is bad, I may find conformity good when one is new to a group and would like to observe the group culture before voicing out ideas. For example, when one become a member of a group who regularly visit a temple, that new member usually just conforms to whatever route the group take to reach that particular temple.
So, in doing some actions, I think that people need to be more authentic, whether one really want to do it or not, not because of peer pressure.