Where Did My Peers Go?

2019 January 29

People surround us throughout most of our young(er) lives. At home, we are likely surrounded by others, sharing rooms, eating together, or at least within the sound of others’ voices. At school, we sit next to peers all day and we are part of teams or activities where the “we” is constantly present.

And then, one day, something changes. One day, without notice, we can’t find our peers. When we become “adults,” we find ourselves increasingly alone, looking, searching, and waiting for people we can connect with meaningfully. In the midst of life’s most challenging transitions, we realize that being peer-less is indeed perilous . . .

Peer pressure is more than we once believed it to be.  Too often, we put together “peer” and “pressure” without even thinking. We’ve been warned about the dangers of peer pressure. “Be careful, people will lead you down paths that may be harmful.” “If you hang out with the wrong crowd, you might be encouraged to make bad choices.” “Just say no,”is the mantra that resonates throughout our collective consciousness. But peers are more than pressure. Peers aren’t just people we randomly meet online or people whom we may happen to work next to.  They are people we view as similar in some significant way. People we believe are like us in ways that make us pay attention. People we believe to be on a similar path as ourselves. People we believe are facing similar challenges.  People we can look to for guidance, not because they are perfect, but because they are imperfect in ways that means something to us.

A peer-less network means not only are we more vulnerable to feeling lonely and apart from the world, it also makes us more likely to feel like we have no control of how we respond to the situations that are shaping us.

 Finding meaningful peers—not public figures—is more difficult than most people believe.  Without access to meaningful peers, we are likely to become (or stay) lost. Caregiving, grief, illness, recovery, addiction, and feeling lost call forth the need for landmarks. These essential social landmarks are not found on stages in front of large audiences. They have little to do with the number of subscribers you have.  It’s much more intimate than those barometers designed for public assessments of value that show only “results,” not process.

When peers are not immediately near or around us, finding them becomes much more challenging.  Finding and connecting with peers—people whom we respect and value—is one of the most essential social skills that we need to lean on when we are attempting to navigate parts of life few of us planned for.

It means trying to meet people as they are, not as they want us to believe they are. It means allowing others to know us as we are, not as we need others to think we are. It means reaching out when we feel most vulnerable and least likely to open ourselves up to others. This is no easy task.

Peers make possible perspective—not sympathy.  Only when we are lost do we begin to look at our situation with an intensity that seemed unnecessary when life made so much sense. Life interruptions sharpen our senses as we scan the environment for clues as to where we are, and possible ways we can get to where we want to be. Without others’ guidance, we are left to lean on those who wish us well, but do not know what we are experiencing. People who can sympathize but can’t fully understand the constraints and opportunities within our particular situations.

Their voices are valuable and comforting, but they cannot give us perspective. No one has perspective. It’s always shared and created.

Peers can hold us accountable in ways others simply cannot. The people we sit next to at work, or even in our own house, may not be our peers. Amount of time spent together and shared history aren’t necessary for someone to qualify as a peer. Peers aren’t defined as the people around us. Instead, they possess something that most others do not: our respect. People we believe we can relate to. People we look to as guides for how we want to live our lives. People whose life story stops us in our tracks, and moves us in ways others may overlook or dismiss. A response. An attitude. An endurance that speaks to us in ways that inspires. People whom we believe can understand us in ways others may not be capable of, despite their best intentions. People we respect.

Peers can help protect us (from ourselves) in ways we may not be able to.  If we don’t cultivate audiences whom we respect, we will miss out on realistic feedback and meaningful assessments of our goals, responses, and choices. Because respected peers can understand, they can give us permission to be more compassionate to ourselves in ways we might never allow. Respected peers give us permission to voice our faults and find value in our experiences in ways we too often will not allow ourselves to appreciate.

Just as people make pilgrimages to mountaintops or ocean vistas to find perspective in something larger and more expansive, finding respected peers is necessary to help us view ourselves from a new point of view. No matter how hard we try or how much we know it would be good for us, we can’t generate different perspective(s) alone. Cultivating respected peers isn’t an option; it’s a necessity when life changes on us in ways that begins to change us.

 

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