What leads one person to step aside while another falls in line? What causes one individual to need the acceptance of the group while another follows their own internal barometer? What is the epicenter of personal strength versus weakness under group pressure?
This question has been at the front of my thought process for the past many months, struggling greatly with the question of why a group of 25 professional baseball players and 10 coaches, all adults, would participate in the rule-breaking and immoral act of stealing signs in baseball.
When asking for insight from peers, the response is always logical and consistent, stating such is the nature of peer pressure. But there has to be more. Perhaps I am looking at the situation too idealistically, but for better or worse, I generally believe the greater majority of us, when faced with moral dilemma, make good, solid, responsible decisions.
So, what amount of pressure would lead these 35 adults, whether by action or lack of action, to commit a blatantly wrongful act without someone stepping out of line? How is it possible not one person or a small group ever challenged the process?
For clarity, my purpose is not to indict the acts of those involved. That has been done and they will have to live with their actions. And I ask these questions with no pretenses, not claiming that I or anyone in my life is beyond reproach. As my mom used to say, relating to her five boys, “I never comment on anyone else’s kids. I’m not even sure what my own are doing!”
Rather, it is simply to seek to understand why no one stood strong. It relates to us and it relates to our children.
For those of us who are parents, or even for those that have some level of influence in a young person’s life, the window for instilling this inner strength, while seemingly extensive, is actually quite short. This just reinforces the fact that every instance, every opportunity needs to be considered a teaching moment. Every time your child is faced with a moral crossroad, it cannot be taken lightly. We cannot tell ourselves we will teach when the next trial arises. Each and every one must be considered the most important teaching moment of their existence.
We all have known people in our lives who had an inner resolve, an internal confidence that allowed them to stay to their own path, seemingly uninfluenced by the faulty input from others. The memory might be of a school age friend, a business associate, a neighbor, others. But you remember them and there was just something about them that stood out.
Sometimes, especially when meeting them in their younger years, we knew their parents. This is where it all starts to come together. What was it about the parents? What of their traits led you to identify the same in your friend?
My memories of these parents did not correlate at all with whether they were outgoing or more reserved, whether they came to our games or tended to stay home. It has nothing to do with their professions or interests. It had to everything do with how they carried themselves when the subject got serious. When matters related to establishing boundaries, discussing right or wrong, considering the gray areas, when it was not always clear – that was when they stood out. That was when and where the friend’s internal gauge was formed. Ultimately, when we were confronted with moral challenge, I saw the same response in my friend.
In contrast, we also remember friend’s parents who wanted to be known as the flexible parent, one that was always understanding the plight of their child, more wanting to please than to lead, wanting to be known, for all the wrong reasons, as a popular parent by the young people. We well remember those parents, as well. And, in many cases, we remember how their child reacted in times of moral question. They usually floundered, unsure whether to follow the crowd or stand firm, with no confidence or inner gauge.
This brings us all the way back to the professional baseball team and the 35 adults who participated in the offense. And it challenges us to ask ourselves how we are raising our children to respond in a similar situation. Are we raising them to fall in line or stand their ground? Will they falter under moral pressure or will their internal compass lead them and possibly others to stand strong and independent?
Parenting is never easy. Spending the time to carefully and patiently listen to our children is still harder. Having the inner resolve to lead them with passion, courage, strength, and consistency, raises the bar one more level. When combining these traits with our own sound choices in times of challenge, we are giving our kids more than a fighting chance in choosing between following the crowd and being a leader when coming to tomorrow’s fork in the road.
Bill Barry is a North Kingstown resident. He writes about sports parenting, the local sports scene and more in a regular column.