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Peer Pressure and Being Cool

by Jan Meyer

Social norms can give us great confidence in our behavior. We know we belong when our actions are in accordance with accepted practices. Others' influence on our actions is peer pressure. Our fitting in is being cool .

For example, consider the number of ways people dirt dive. Some jumpers sort of stand nearly upright and lazily turn in their slots. Jumpsuits are used when we get semi-serious and want to get a better visual image of the dive. Creepers are used when we feel competition tough . Generally, most people will rate your skills higher and consider you an elite jumper if you use creepers. This is especially true if you have custom made creepers with a team logo and each creeper has its own name.

To be cool , you can't run out to the plane. You sort of saunter out near the plane and stand in the shade as long as possible. You put your leg straps on the second before you climb in the aircraft. You wait until jumprun to fasten your chest strap and put your goggles on. The exceptionally cool go barefoot, never, ever wear hats or altimeters, and don't believe in pinchecks. Since these folks are cool , they must be good skydivers. They're always borrowing gear, so they must know what there're doing.

Social norms are great. They give us confidence. They let us know that our friends like us (because we're cool ). We're part of the group. We are accepted. This is a basic human need. We need to know that we are part of the community and that we belong.

Social norms have some drawbacks, though. They tend to stifle new and innovative ideas. People are ostracized from groups. Outcasts are left to struggle on their own. Likewise, people with exceptional ability, who are well recognized and accepted by a community, may be perceived, at times, to be superhuman. These guys can do anything and do it well.

Both the outcasts and the exceptional people rarely feel peer pressure. They do as they please. The outcasts have no peers. (Besides no one really cares for them anyway.) The exceptional people don't have peers either. No one feels he is good enough to be an equal. (This is similar to how can a jumper with 400 jumps possibly teach anything to someone with 4000 jumps. )

Lack of peer pressure sounds great, too. No one hassles you about being different. You don't have to compromise. You don't have to do things for others' approval. You don't have people saying, "You're just a beginner, why don't you practice on the ground until that becomes automatic." , "Do you have a competent CRW instructor?" , or "Hey, you left your rig in the hanger."

Lack of peer pressure may contribute to unsafe practices.

Today, safety awareness towards others is not part of being cool. Each person is on his own and doesn't and shouldn't bother with being concerned about anybody else. This is part of some people's definition of being cool . You can't be cool and be safe at the same time. We can change this. Peer pressure can be used to instill attitudes of safety. It may not always get people to change their ways, but it will alert them to dangers they may have forgotten or never have known about. You may find yourself a temporary outcast, if you

-bump a drinker or toker from a load,

-stop a dive at 12,000ft to tell someone about a floating reserve handle,

-say that breaking off below 3000ft is a little bit too low,

-say that your CRW instructor should have his canopy on forwards for your first few CRW jumps,

-tell the guy with 4000 jumps that strap it on and go is NOT cool and could be fatal, or

-insist that each jumper have his rig on and fastened before boarding an aircraft.

Forget about the short term rejection you may get. Think about living with the thought "If I had only said something beforehand, he might be alive today." This 20-20 hindsight could give you many a restless nights. Maybe we should add a new phrase to PARACHUTIST 's Incident Reports: Someone saying something to this jumper before his fatal skydive may have prevented his death. Let's use peer pressure to say it's cool to be safe.

This article was written in memory of Nigel Stickley, Ivan Mc Guire, Dave Wilds and Terry Dean. May we take note of the many contributing factors that lead to their unfortunate demise and use this information to change the future of skydiving.

Originally published in Sport Parachutist's Safety Journal V1, #2 Jul/Aug 1988.
©Copyright 1988, 1996 by Jan Meyer. Republished with permission.

Dedicated to enhancing sport parachuting safety by disseminating information about equipment, environments and human factors.

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