Influence is something that is often taken lightly. As individuals we sometimes fail to understand how influential people can be to us or vice versa. An Italian proverb says “The person who lives with cripples will soon learn to limp.” Sometimes we don’t realize that we are being influenced (positively or negatively) until someone highlights it or we find ourselves in a situation where we are led to the source of the influence. Influence is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on, or produce effects on the actions, behaviour, opinions, etc., of others.” Social influence especially, affects an individual since it tends to change their thoughts, feelings and actions drastically.
When I think about influence, the animated children’s story “Pinocchio” comes to mind, from the moment he left his “father” Geppetto’s house to go to school, he allowed himself to be influenced by individuals around him that he barely knew. Soon he had no “mind” of his own, he made promises to be good and do what is right, but as soon as ‘bad’ came along he went with it too... but can you really blame him, after all he was made out of wood. We are not much different from Pinocchio, thankfully though our brains are not made from wood, but we are affected in more ways than one by the social influences around us. Social Psychologist Herbert C Kelman said, “we can describe an influence situation—in its most general form—as one in which an influencing agent offers some new behaviour to a person and communicates to him in some fashion, that adoption of this behaviour will have certain implications for the achievement of his goals.”
Social influences then make forms: conformity, peer pressure, obedience, persuasion and compliance. The three most popular forms however are conformity, compliance and obedience. Conformity is changing how we behave to be more like others. This stems from belonging and esteem needs as we seek the approval and friendship of others. Conformity can run very deep, as we will even change our beliefs and values to be like those of our peers and admired superiors. This was obvious in Pinocchio’s situation, when his schoolmate encouraged him to be a truant, “but someone else was about to cross his path and lead him astray. This time, it was Carlo, the lazy bones of the class… Why don't you come to Toyland with me? Nobody ever studies there and you can play all day long! Forgetting all his promises to his father and the fairy, Pinocchio was again heading for trouble.”
Often times we too conform to the whims and fancies of our “friends” without giving a second thought to the consequences of our actions. The Bible even substantiates the fact that conforming is not necessarily a good practice, Romans 12:2 states “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Compliance is another form of social influence, its effects may not be visible immediately as conforming, but they are long lasting since it would appear as if we are battling with our consciences. Compliance defines when a person does something that they are asked to do by another. They may choose to comply or not to comply, although the thoughts of social reward and punishment may lead them to compliance when they really do not want to comply. Pinocchio complied when the fairy told him to return the gold coins to his father, but deep in his heart he was not convinced which is why it was so easy for him to be influenced again by the fox and the cat. Fighting against our true desires can reap the same consequences as conforming; we should be truthful to ourselves, since we are the ones who will face total ruin in the end.
Obedience is different from compliance in that it is following an order from someone that you accept as an authority figure. In compliance, you have some choice. In obedience, you believe that you do not have a choice. Obedience is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this context it can be, because obeying someone out of fear or belief that you have no other choice, is the same as acting like a puppet or a robot. Obedience can be good as well as bad, which is why God blessed us with a spirit of discernment, knowledge and understanding to choose positive influences.
In the end Pinocchio made a wise decision when he chose to work for a man who gave him milk for his father, he also learnt the value of independence and self-reliance. We too can rise above the negative influences around, we are not obligated to conform, comply or obey unless we see where the results will be beneficial to our personal or character development. There are many positive influences in society; our job is to seek them so we can erase the “Pinocchio within us.
Northern Caribbean University operates in harmony with the beliefs, practices and educational philosophy of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As such, it encourages students to relate their academic pursuits to their understanding of the Christian faith. It emphasizes the development of a sound Christian character and seeks to maintain an atmosphere, which fosters in its students, commitment and growth in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus, faith and learning combine to prepare students for practical Christian usefulness.
NCU students are therefore required to consistently avoid all forms of personal conduct that are scholastically deleterious, spiritually or morally destructive, and to respect the facilities of the University and the rights and property of others. They are also required to abstain from the use of drugs, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and refrain from improper conduct between the sexes.