All of us know the term "peer pressure." It's what our mothers used to counter when their daughters wanted to dress like street-walkers or their sons reeked of the smell of cigarette — or, a generation later, pot — smoke. The kid would say, "But, Mom, everybody's doing it." Then she would say, "So if everybody was going to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?"

If you didn't hear that line from your mother at some point about your choice of wardrobe, vocabulary, lifestyle, refusal to shower, distaste for school, grades, or a dozen or more other things, I'm sorry. You either didn't have a mother, or you had one who didn't care enough about the immature things kids do.

For all that, however, there is also a positive side to peer pressure. Better to hang out with Boy Scouts, Rotarians, or fitness buffs than Skinheads, child pornographers, or maximum-security prisoners! We tend to be influenced in either positive or negative directions by those with whom we spend time. The more time spent, the greater the influence. That's why your mom was always so pleased to have you hang around with the kids who didn't have criminal records and who got good grades. It helped her believe the best about you.

A recent book by Tina Rosenberg, "Join the Club", makes this point. She writes about "the social cure" that comes about when organizations and leaders tap the power of group dynamics to help people learn new skills, improve their lives, and make a difference in their world.

"The best-known example of the social cure is Alcoholics Anonymous," writes Ms. Rosenberg, "which works by regularly gathering a small number of people with the common goal of sobriety." She is not the first to notice the phenomenon.

It's why some college students choose to attend a Christian college. It explains why people join service clubs, participate in Habitat builds, or attend church. They believe their better impulses are more likely to produce fruit when nurtured and translated into action in company with others who are like-minded.

The rugged individualism of one brave soul standing against the tide still makes a stirring story and sometimes reflects reality. But most of us are better served by the reinforcement that comes of standing with others who share a common goal. That, by the way, is why forced participation tends to backfire. One has to want a positive outcome. Then you find people who share the desire. You talk the talk and walk the walk together. Each makes it easier for the other.

In selecting your friends, you are making the choice of your own destiny.
In selecting your friends, you are making the choice of your own destiny.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV11).