Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Challenge by Choice = Peer Pressure?

I received a excellent critical thought response about an earlier post about Challenge by Choice.
Reply by Lance Thomas - original discusson found on The Challenge a free member-generated directory of adventure-based experiential learning practitioners, facilities, programs, services and products.
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"I do things outside my comfort zone all the time, but I don't really think of it in the terms 'Challenge by Choice. In my opinion, Challenge by Choice is a complex term that has a rather loaded definition.
As Chris points out not everyone participating in Challenge by Choice activities have a choice to be there. That in itself take the fundamental choice out of the equation.When people participate in Challenge by Choice activities they are often encouraged (through various means) to participate much more than they would like. This is often viewed as acceptable because the facilitator is pushing an agenda (with a more or less preconceived outcome) onto the participant. Facilitators often view the activities, and the encouragement, as acceptable and 'the right thing to do'. What is really happening is that the participant is facing peer pressure from the dominant social norm to engage in an activity they are not comfortable doing. This is 'okay' because our motives are good.
If the same pressure was placed on an individual to engage in criminal, or questionable, activity it would be objectionable. But what is objectionable? The activity being pressured on the person, or the pressure the person is facing to do something they don't want to do?If one of our objectives to developing independent people who make good choices, then why do we encourage them to 'follow the pack' and seek approval of the group?
This is my story...I do not like heights - at all. I get sweaty palms thinking about looking down from a fourth floor balcony. To say it is uncomfortable is a slight understatement. And yet, in my career field I am often faced with the challenge of ropes course and 'high' elements. In the past I have performed the activities, but I have never enjoyed them. I can do them, but I am so focused on completing the task that I don't get much out of it.
Another common phrase in this field is peak experience, or peak flow, too much or too little stimulation and learning can not take place. High elements offer too much stimulation for me and greatly hinder learning/personal growth.On a ropes course I know I can complete the elements - I have done it before. I mechanically and methodically complete them, not enjoying the moment, or having a positive experience. But I do face immense peer pressure to participate, and more pressure to do a bit more, and a bit more, and finally pressure to complete the elements. I feel pressure to conform to the norms of the group, to not let the group down, and I feel pressure to not let myself down by sticking up for myself and just saying no. So that is what I do, I exercise my choice in Challenge by Choice.
If I were to sign up for an accounting class then that is my choice. I accept the terms and I make my decision - it is MY choice. What do not have (hopefully) when I sign up for the accounting class is a facilitator offering 'encouragement', or a group of peers 'cheering me on'. It wouldn't be any different than if I stepped outside of my comfort zone, conformed to the norms of a group, followed their cheers, and snorted a line of cocaine.So, yes I walk my talk - which is make your own choices, don't conform for the sake of conformity (unless you want to), and be aware of the many forms of peer pressure."

Thank You Lance.

- Michael Cardus serves as an Adventure Consultant for Create-Learning Team Building. Mike facilitates, trains, and speaks to groups in a variety of settings including Fortune 500 Companies, small business, universities and classrooms. Currently he lives in Buffalo NY, he travels to serve your groups needs - where and when your group desires.