Year of questions: When is peer pressure good?

When I was in college back in Wisconsin we used to run all over town. A tradition in men’s cross country was to jump off an old railroad bridge into Turtle Creek, certainly not the most dangerous thing we ever did, but the bridge was high enough and creek narrow enough to make it scary each of the dozen or so times I jumped.

We had one runner, who I’ll call Dr. Pepper, that wasn’t a risk taker by nature. He said a few times over his four years that he would jump before graduation. So there we were… 10 or so runners, on a trestle overlooking the creek, cajoling him into jumping. I’ve always been more on the supportive end of things myself, so I was trying to convince him that it wasn’t difficult / would be fun / and once he did it he would feel great. Another runner was taking the more straightforward tack, yelling “Do it! Just do it! Now! You’re gonna regret it if you don’t!”

Ultimately he didn’t jump, and I’m willing to bet it was a decision he regretted. I wondered, should I have pushed harder? Would that have helped? No one was ever injured in the years I participated, and if he had jumped I think he would have been glad for the pressure that got him to do it. I don’t believe in getting people to do things against their will, but it does make me wonder, when is peer pressure a good thing? How do you know the difference? Is there some line you can see when you cross from good to bad?

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