Peer pressure

When I was a teenager, our family went on holidays in the northern mountains of Pakistan - to Hunza, the fabled land of 'Shang-ri-la'.

The mountains are incredible, the views are amazing, and the 'walks' (I use that term loosely) are for mountain climbers.

My father is a bit of an adventure-lover. And needless to say, he wanted us all to go on a particular walk he'd heard about.

"It's just up to a shepherd's hut," he said to convince us. "It'll take a few hours - just a day's walk."

We children were always less keen than Dad on such things, and voiced our dissent, but he convinced us, saying, "Look, Deb and Eunice went on it last year, and they made it, so you'll make it too."

Deb and Eunice, while the most wonderful people you can ever imagine, were not the doyennes of fitness at that stage of their lives, so we figured that the walk would be possible.

We set out early the next morning, and on the beginning of the track met some friends, also holidaying in the area. This intrepid couple had two little children with them, whom they were carrying in packs on their backs. We decided to walk together, and set off.

To be completely honest, it was the most horrendous hike. The track started out flat but quickly changed to vertical. It was a climb - over rocks, up landslide scree, past and over steep angled rushing rivers.

My legs began hurting within 25 minutes, and the pain didn't stop for the next three days. There were times when I thought I would have to sit down and die because it just wasn't possible to go on.

We climbed and climbed for four hours or more. But then we got to the top. And it was a sight to behold. The view was unbelievable - snow caps in the distance and such a blue sky. It was like we were at the top of the world in clear fresh air. I will never forget the feeling of having made it, sitting there panting in relief.

Going down was almost worse than climbing up, but at least we knew how long it would take, and that bed was waiting at the other end. (Embarrassingly: as we climbed down, at 4 in the afternoon, we met a climber cheerfully jogging up the path, whistling. It turned out he was at a base camp, a little higher up than the Shepherd's Hut and had 'just run down to town for some supplies'.)

The next day, hardly able to walk due to lactic acid build up in every single muscle we possessed, we groaningly met up with our friends, the pair who had carried their children up that horrendous hike.

"You'll never guess what it said in the guide book about that walk," our friend said. "We just read it - it's recommended for experienced hikers only."

We could believe it. We had suffered up that hill and back.

But here's the interesting thing: not one adult ever suggested throwing in the towel and turning around, even though they were in agony with every step.

Why not?

"Well, we thought, if they could carry their children up that path, we ought to be able to walk it," said my dad.

And, "we thought that if your parents who were 15 years older than us could do it, we ought to be able to do it, being young and fit and in our prime", said our friend.

"Anyway," they both added, "we thought we'd never live it down if word got out that we quit when Deb and Eunice could make it."


I share this story to illustrate the positive pushing power of peer pressure. A friend with little kids blogged today about how she couldn't believe what some other mothers do, with more than two children, let alone interests and hobbies and cooking to juggle. She felt quite inadequate and slovenly in comparison.

My comment was that she has articulated the despairing cry of every woman with little children on the planet! All of us feel we can't do it, can't make it, can't continue, almost every day. But we look around and find the person who looks like they have it all together, and say, "Well, if she can do it, I can!"

We forget that she's also looking around going, "I can't do it, can't make it, can't continue... but I'd better because that woman over there can do it."

And so the world goes around.