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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Marks for Effort”

A good portion of this episode focuses on the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ desire to find a way to attend the School of Friendship; in spite of the fact the three are somewhat “overqualified” for enrollment. After failing to be able to get in themselves, the three attempt to attend vicariously by helping out an existing student, Cozy Glow, in her own friendship assignments. Yet things get problematic when Cozy, recognizing their desire and in an attempt to get them enrolled, purposely flubs her assignments so that Princess Twilight will think the CMCs are, in fact, “bad at friendship” and let them join in. After a mishap in which the girls get temporarily banned by Twilight for thinking they intentionally tried to ruin Cozy’s progress by mis-teaching her, everything gets sorted out and the girls end up finding a way to be included at the school by being tutors for all friendship students.

What underlies this entire storyline is one central idea: a desire to belong. Wanting to belong to a certain group or social order is one of humanity’s greatest needs–perhaps its greatest after satisfying all physical needs (such as food, water, and shelter). We seek to identify with others like us and to be around them, and, very often, we change our own behavior in order to conform with others we wish to be with…whether those changes be for good or bad.

I would contend it is very, very rare that you will meet someone who doesn’t want to find other like-minded individuals like themselves to interact with and talk to. Even if someone describes themselves as unique or a loner, at the bare minimum they will want to know people who understand and appreciate their uniqueness or who love and accept them even if they aren’t around them all the time. How the process seems to work from my perspective is that we’ll first try to find others like us who like what we like and are interested in what we’re interested in. If that fails, we’ll settle for individuals who accept whatever personality and behavioral quirks we possess. And if we can’t even find that, then we start making changes to our behavior, interests, or even thinking in order to be a better fit for others.

This third step is what I want to focus on. From one perspective, you could say that’s a bad thing as that it’s often the source of social conformity and peer pressure. Generally speaking, however, it’s a good thing for society as a whole and usually for individuals.

Think of children. Very little children might, when their parents won’t buy them something they want, pout, scream, whine, or throw a fit. Adults don’t often do that because they know that doesn’t gain anything and most people find it childish and inappropriate. A person who is accustomed to swearing like a sailor, on entering a more conservative environment, might quickly find they get dirty looks or uncomfortable glances; prompting them to stop swearing. It’s also prevalent in much bigger issues of society at large. Divorce rates haven’t gone up in this country so high simply because couples stopped being faithful (although, considering the current attitude toward sexual relations nowadays, I contend that remains a big factor) but also because society used to frown on the idea of divorce so much that even couples in an abusive or toxic marriage would refuse to get one.

As another benefit, while trying to fit into a society can definitely encourage one to adopt a universal societal viewpoint it can also encourage them to do the opposite. One would probably say the best way to get rid of racial bias is to interact with a diversity of people from a particular race. Or the best way to be more accepting of a certain religion is to actually get into a group that has a diversity of members of that religion. On the other hand, if a certain individual has the sort of mindset that promotes violence or suppression of another group of people by force, but they live in a society that strongly discourages that, they’ll likely not act out that behavior even if they don’t change inwardly because they know they’ll get the condemnation of those around them.

So while it is not good in all situations, and in many situations might actually lead to negative behaviors and traits, as a general sociological rule this sort of tendency we have to want to fit in can be beneficial. Unfortunately, in our modern world, there’s something that confounds the good side of this adaptation toward social inclusion: the Internet.

I have a maxim when it comes to the online world: “Be careful what you go looking for on the Internet, because you will find it.” The Internet is a tremendously advantageous tool for getting access to information…both good information and misinformation. It’s also a world-changing way of connecting with people…whether those are “good” people or “bad” people. Applying it to what I outlined above changes the whole dynamic. Before, we would expect societal pressure to keep certain tendencies and ideas down (for better or for worse). The Internet eliminates that. Now, we no longer have to worry about failing to fit into a group. Whatever type of group we already are can be identified, located, participated in, and, most importantly, can provide an environment of encouragement and support for that behavior or mindset.

Again, this isn’t a totally bad thing as it’s an opportunity to break down prejudices and walls and connect people. (I’m 100% sure I would have never become a fan of MLP:FIM without the Internet, as it allowed me to see others like me watched it and weren’t “weird” or “perverted” or anything.) On the other hand, it also makes it easy to adopt all sorts of lifestyles and behaviors, including self-destructive ones, while being encouraged by others doing the same. It also makes it easy to connect to a lot of hate groups who will be all too happy to confirm that one’s racism, sexism, prejudices, etc. are all perfectly justified and logical. It can even twist facts to the point where large groups of people think they’re being rational by totally ignoring reality and science. (Look no further than the preponderance of “flat-Earthers” and “anti-vaxxers” for that.) In some situations, it might even go so far as to encourage people to throw the “bratty tantrums” I mentioned in my original example well into adulthood. (Want proof? I suggest looking on Youtube or Reddit for “r/choosingbeggars”.)

In the Old Testament, the Bible warns: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20) More succinctly, in the New Testament, it reads: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.'” (1 Corinthians 15:33). In both instances, the idea is the same–like it or not, the company we keep will define who we are. Whether we consider something good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, moral or immoral, will ultimately be colored by the lenses of whatever group we happen to belong to or try to belong to.

Because of that, we should all take care to be mindful that what we consider a standard for good and evil isn’t simply what society accepts or rejects at the time. It’s important to assess, evaluate, and maintain our own morals–to know what they are, why they are what they are, and to keep that in mind whenever we’re examining not only what groups of individuals we wish to associate with but ourselves. For the Christian, this means anchoring on the Word of God and Jesus Christ.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the ‘firm foundation’ that is your Word, the Bible, and the assurance that those who build their lives on it will not be shaken. No matter where I find myself in life, both physically as well as emotionally, please help me to always set my eyes on your Word and Truth and to keep focus on it whenever I am being pressured to go one way or another; especially if such pressure to belong with others is prompting me to change my thinking and behavior toward condoning wickedness, hate, or immorality. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”