Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Have Courage to Be Different?
“Sometimes peer pressure makes me do what I feel is wrong, but since it is too uncool not to do it, I just say yes.”—John.
“PEER pressure invades every aspect of our lives.” So says writer Lesley Jane Nonkin. Peers try to dictate how you dress. They set the rules on how you walk, talk, and comb your hair. Individuality is not tolerated. Conform—or suffer rejection!
Christian youths, however, are not slaves to conformity. Following the rule Jesus set at John 15:19, they are “no part of the world” of ungodly people.* Being in the world but no part of it is challenging, though. It’s like rowing a boat on a turbulent sea. You are in the water and surrounded by water, but to stay alive you try to keep as much of it as possible out of your boat! Similarly, youths among Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to keep the world’s ungodliness from seeping into their lives.
This is not always easy, however. Consider a young Witness in Japan named Eiichiro. Pressure to conform is very strong in that land, among youths as well as adults. Eiichiro recalls: “In school I could not conscientiously participate in ceremonies involving national symbols and songs. Further, I could not learn the martial arts, as these were opposed to Bible principles.” (See Exodus 20:4, 5 and Luke 4:8; Isaiah 2:4 and Luke 10:27.) This made Eiichiro conspicuous—perhaps embarrassingly so—among his peers.
Witness youths the world over face similar situations. “Holidays are the hardest,” says one Christian youth. “All the kids ask, ‘Why aren’t you celebrating?’” For one teenage girl the toughest issue is “whether to go out with guys.” Yet another Christian teenager complains of the pressures to socialize. He says: “People ask you all the time, ‘Aren’t you going to the party?’” Other Witness youths have been ridiculed for refusing to cut classes or cheat on tests. It is easy to see, then, that being different takes a great deal of courage, and not all youths feel they have it.
One youth wrote: “I’m living two lives—one at school and one at home. At school I hang around worldly kids. But these kids swear almost every time they open their mouths, and I’m turning out just like them. What should I do?” The answer is clear: Find the courage to be different! But how?
The Source of True Courage
Courage is the mental or moral strength to withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Not all possess it, yet it can be obtained. “God gave us not a spirit of cowardice,” explains the apostle Paul, “but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Yes, God can supply you the strength needed to stand up to your peers.—Philippians 4:13.
But how do you get this power? One way is by simply asking for it. “Ask and you will receive,” promised Jesus at John 16:24. Especially when you are faced with the temptation to compromise should a prayer be on your lips. “I pray to Jehovah to gain control of my mind and heart,” says one Christian youth.
Courageous Youths in Early Times
Reading and meditating on Bible accounts that tell about courageous servants of God is another way to help you to develop fearlessness. For example, are you shy about letting others know that you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Then study the account at 2 Kings 5:1-5. It tells of a kidnapped Israelite girl who courageously expressed her faith before others. Another exciting account is recorded at Acts 4:20. There the apostles boldly told opposers: “We cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” Studying these accounts may inspire you to demonstrate the same boldness in speaking.
Another thrilling story is that of Daniel and his three teenage companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These youths were among a number of elite Jewish youths who were captured and brought to Babylon. The king of Babylon had in mind training these youths for responsible governmental positions. To help assimilate them into the Babylonian way of life, the youths were stripped of their Jewish names and taught the language and ways of the Babylonians. Their captors further tried to wean them away from Jewish practice by feeding them “the delicacies of the king.”—Daniel 1:7, 8.
To the Babylonian mind, such foods were a gourmet’s delight. To God-fearing Jews, Babylonian fare was religiously repugnant. Yet, most of the captive youths apparently succumbed to the temptation—all except Daniel and his companions. Imagine the pressure they may have received from their Jewish peers! How did these youths react to such pressures? Read for yourself the faith-strengthening account in Daniel chapter 1. Perhaps it will help you to have the courage to refuse should someone ever offer you illegal drugs or alcohol!
It’s not enough simply to read about courage. To develop the courage that will help you stand up to peer pressure, you must daily follow the advice Paul gave men and women in the Corinthian congregation: “Stay firm in the faith; be brave and be strong.”—1 Corinthians 16:13, The Jerusalem Bible.
For example, when you are out of the sight of your parents and members of the Christian congregation, do you change your dress or hairstyle so as to fit in with worldly youths? Or do you uncompromisingly adhere to Christian standards? “I refuse to follow every style that comes out,” says one brave Christian girl.
Another question: Are you brave enough to let your classmates know that you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? If your school allows you to do so, do you carry your Bible and Bible literature with you? If issues involving evolution, patriotic ceremonies, or blood transfusion come up in class, do you “make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you”? (1 Peter 3:15) Or do you sit at your desk in anxious silence? Said Jesus Christ: ‘Whoever becomes ashamed of me and my words, I will also be ashamed of him.’—Mark 8:38.
Far from being ashamed, a courageous Christian boasts about his Bible-based hope! (Compare Hebrews 3:6.) Eiichiro, the Japanese youth quoted earlier, learned to do that. He was often questioned as to why he didn’t participate in patriotic ceremonies or martial arts. Was he disadvantaged for being different? “No,” he says, “I came to view all of this as a challenge. You see, I had to prepare answers to defend my actions and had to rely on Jehovah’s help. So in the long run, the disadvantages became advantages.”
Learn to speak up also when you are faced with temptation. Proverbs 1:10-15 says: “My son, if sinners try to seduce you, do not consent. If they keep saying: ‘Do go with us . . .’ my son, do not go in the way with them. Hold back your foot from their roadway.” Of course, this does not necessarily mean preaching a sermon. In her book How to Say No and Keep Your Friends, counselor Sharon Scott notes that at times you might simply want to leave, decline the invitation—or simply ignore it. But at times, you may have little choice but to speak up and let others know why you cannot join in with them. Counselor Scott recommends that you be firm: “Try not to look passive . . . Maintain eye contact. . . . Speak in a firm and steady voice.”
You may still be teased or mocked for your stand. Yet, many will begrudgingly admire you. Mike, another teenager, says: “A lot of the guys know I’m a Witness, and they give me respect. If they’re going to discuss something bad, they will say, ‘Mike, we’re getting ready to talk, so if you want to leave, leave.’” Not all youths will accord you such respect. But God will certainly be pleased by your course. (1 Peter 4:3-6) One Christian youth thus says: “Don’t worry about what other kids think about you!” God’s opinion is what counts. And he will bless you for having the courage to be different.
See the article “Why Do I Have to Be Different?” appearing in our June 8, 1992, issue.
[Picture on page 16]
When opportunities to explain your faith arise, do you speak out?