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Art Lee: Peer pressure can lead to regret

There are few parents who have not heard that same plaintive response line from their child being chastised for doing something questionable: "But everyone's doing it!"

That line is supposed to both explain and justify everything kids do. If one's friends are doing it, well, then, it must by OK. So, go ahead and do it.

The psychologists call it peer pressure and are convinced that there is little, if anything, more important and powerful in a young person's life than the peer pressure of friends, even if the acts of those friends to be copied are, at times, immoral or, perhaps, even illegal.

Young people often do dumb things, and even worse. And their friends join in making it a dumb group affair. Alas, this herd mentality means "to get along, go along," regardless. Illegality is just a big word applying only to other people and means nothing, especially if you don't get caught. Act first - think about it later, sometimes with the thinking done during incarceration time. Certainly peer pressures are real and many, and even questioning the dubious actions of pals at the time of the act leads to nasty retorts: "Yellow!" "Party pooper!" "Goody-goody," "Whuzzamatter, fraidy cat?" "Hey, ain't you one of us?"

'Tis tough to stand up to one's peers. And even tougher - and the hardest thing to do - is to not only resist peer pressure, but also to speak out at the time against these actions to those same peers. Now, that takes real guts.

Therein lies a tale

Five young college students, all roommates living in a rented basement just off campus, were returning home after watching their college football team play a night game against LaCrosse State. On the way there, one of them noticed their driving by a big turkey farm and said out loud, "Hey, with Thanksgiving coming up soon, we should get ourselves a few fat gobblers."

Grunts of assent followed as the car rolled on, but that seemed to be the end of that topic.

It was on the way back, however, that the proposition of nabbing a turkey or two was repeated, with one assenting voice adding that he knew someone who would cook them for them. More affirmative nods to that practical addition, and one "You betcha; let's do it."

The plan was hatching.

"Nuthin' to grabbing a few birds. They're right beside the highway. We'll wait 'til the traffic is down, turn off the car lights, and a couple of us will jump out, crawl under the fence, grab some birds, twist their scrawny necks, drag 'em with us as we crawl back under the fence, then hide in the ditch and lay low 'til the car gets back at the appointed time. Simple. Easy. Nuthin' to it."

Hearty mumbles of agreement were followed by a chorus of "Yeah! OK, let's do it."

With one exception, one lone voice saying, "No way. Count me out."

"Huh? You're not with us? C'mon, it's no problem. Besides there's so many birds that they'll never be missed."

"It's not only dumb - it's illegal, and it's a felony."

Any decision to abort the plan ended with the driver quickly noting, "We're only about a half mile away, and there's no cars either coming on or behind us. I'll kill the lights soon, let you guys out and be back in 20 minutes."

The car stopped abruptly, three boys jumped out and rolled into the deep ditch while the driver and the naysayer drove off. But not before the opponent said, "This is stupid. This is wrong, and I want no part of it. Graystone Tech in St. Cloud might be getting extra cells ready."

"Ah, clam it. No guts, no glory. You don't even know how to have a little fun, Mr. Killjoy. Jeez, whatta jerk."

Happy thieves

The caper was pulled off without a hitch. The pickup arrangement worked as planned with the getaway car there exactly on time. The trunk opened quickly and into it were hurled three dead turkeys, two big gobblers and a hen. With the pedal to the metal, with tires screeching, off into the night they sped on their way back to their basement.

The feast

Turned out, there was someone who would cook the turkeys in exchange for keeping one of them. By the next night, two big browned and baked birds were lying on the sagging card table ready to be attacked by a dozen gluttonous, knife-wielding students. The only trimmings to go with the birds were bread and butter, ketchup and beer. Everyone loved the meal except for one young man who refused to eat one morsel of the food. He didn't say anything, no sermonizing. He just walked away to another room.

By this time a faint element of second-guessing had entered in; a tiny queasiness of guilt and remorse was staring. Personal, silent regrets that no one mentioned to the others. Thus, by this time, there was a growing, grudging admiration of their roommate who had the courage to try to stop them, Meanwhile, none of this inward guilt stopped any munching or belching. The gourmand feast slobbered on interminably for the rest of us. Callow collegians in an eating orgy.

Yes, I was one of them.

The reassessment

At class reunions years later, we four ex-brigands and the non-thief would hunker in a corner and delight in the restored camaraderie. Regularly, there arose amid the "remember whens," the now sobering remembrance of the turkey caper. By then, no one was laughing about it. Finally, mature heads were shaking in wonderment and disbelief at our applied stupidity, and the great dumb luck of not getting caught.

Perhaps at this point, the non-thief should be identified by name - Richard C. Hefte. His current title is Judge Hefte. After college and a stint in the U.S. Army in Korea, he returned to the University of Minnesota Law School and then into practice of law in Fergus Falls. He was named to the Minnesota State Court of Appeals. He eventually retired and returned to Fergus Falls, where he now resides.

As to the other four, well, none ended up in Graystone Tech. All, indeed, became useful, productive citizens; all married, none divorced and all had families.

'Tis odd and even semi-amazing that more than a half a century after those youthful indiscretions - after all, it wasn't exactly the Hope Diamond we pilfered - the turkey event still resonates.

To this day, I don't like turkey.

Art Lee is a Bemidji State University professor emeritus of history.