Chapter 10: Living In an Integrated World
An Integrated World Requires Integral Education
In The Writings of Baal HaSulam, Ashlag asserts, “The greatest of all imaginable pleasures is to be favored by people. It is worthwhile to spend all of one’s energy and corporeal pleasures to obtain a certain amount of that delightful thing. This is the magnet that has lured the greatest in all the generations, and for which they trivialized the life of the flesh.”[i]
Therefore, to alter our social behavior, we must change our social environment from one that promotes individuality to one that promotes mutuality. Practically speaking, we can use the media to show how group work yields better results than individual work, and how competition is detrimental to one’s happiness and health. Once we realize that there is a greater reward in cooperative conduct than in individualism, it will be easy to collaborate and to share.
In their insightful book, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization, authors Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith describe a success story that is worth mentioning in the context of the advantages of teamwork. Burlington Northern Railroad was a successful freight company, and is currently part of a big corporation owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which is controlled by investor Warren Buffett. In 1981, Burlington Northern Railroad was revolutionized by seven men—Bill Greenwood, Mark Cane, Emmett Brady, Ken Hoepner, Dave Burns, Bill Dewitt, and Bill Berry—who used the U.S. deregulation of the railroad industry to speed up the delivery of freight and minimize the cost of delivery. This is how Katzenbach and Smith describe the spirit with which they carried out that revolution: “All real teams share a commitment to their common purpose. But only exceptional team members … also become deeply dedicated to each other. The seven men developed a concern and commitment for one another as deep as their dedication to the vision they were trying to accomplish. They looked out for each other’s welfare, supported each other whenever and however needed, and constantly worked with each other to get done whatever had to get done.”[ii]
Such a story could be a powerful advocate for the case in favor of unity over competition. The only problem is that in our ultra-competitive world, even unity is used to gain personal leverage for the group that is practicing it (or should we say, perpetrating it, due to its misuse). In today’s interconnected and interdependent world, this kind of unity is unsustainable.
In our self-centered society, unity will last just as long as it is lucrative for the individuals involved. In the previous chapter, in the section, “From Me, to We, to One,” we described the ill effects of competition. At the same time, we acknowledged that “with our current knowledge of human nature, we cannot avoid this competitive and alienating attitude because it is coming from within us, a dictation of the fourth, speaking level of desire, and we cannot stop the evolution of desires.”
However, we have already said that we need not impede our evolution, only shift it toward a constructive direction for all. The most instrumental means to achieve this is through mass media. If we develop prosocial media content and bombard ourselves with it as much as we currently bombard ourselves with commercials and infomercials that aim to deplete our bank accounts, we will find ourselves living in a very different society than our current one.
People’s contemporary domestic environments contain a great deal of media entertainment, either through the TV or via the internet. A publication by the U.S. Department of Education titled, “Media Guide—Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence,” stated, “It’s hard to understand the world of early adolescents without considering the huge impact of the mass media on their lives. It competes with families, friends, schools, and communities in its ability to shape young teens’ interests, attitudes, and values.”[iii] Regrettably, the majority of interests that the media shapes is antisocial.
For example, an online publication by the University of Michigan Health System states that “Literally thousands of studies since the 1950s have asked whether there is a link between exposure to media violence and violent behavior. All but 18 have answered, ‘Yes.’ …According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), ‘Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.’”[iv]
To understand how much violence young minds absorb, consider this piece of information from the above publication: “An average American child will see 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18.”[v] If this number does not seem alarming, consider that there are 6,570 days in eighteen years. This means that on average, by age eighteen a child will have been exposed to slightly more than thirty acts of violence on TV, 2.4 of which are murders, every single day of his or her young life.
On the same note, in their book, Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach, published in 2008, Barbara M. Newman, PhD, and Philip R. Newman describe how “Exposure to many hours of televised violence increases young children’s repertoire of violent behavior and increases the prevalence of angry feelings, thoughts, and actions. These children are caught up in the violent fantasy, taking part in the televised situation while they watch.”[vi] If we remember the mirror-neurons, and consider how much we, and especially children, learn by imitation, we can only imagine what irreversible harm watching violence causes them, and we are already feeling the effects of this ill-education.
Therefore, developing media that is prosocial and pro-mutual responsibility is imperative to our survival as a livable society. It must play a key role in shifting the public atmosphere from alienation to camaraderie. The media provides us with almost everything we know about our world. Even the information we receive from friends and from family usually arrives via the media—the modern version of the grapevine.
But the media does not simply provide us with information. It also offers us tidbits about people we approve or disapprove of, and we form our views based on what we see, hear, or read in the media. Because its power over the public is unrivaled, if the media shifts toward togetherness and unity, it will also shift the worldview of most people toward these values.
Currently, the media focuses on successful individuals, media moguls, mega pop stars, and ultra-successful individuals who made billions on the backs of their competitors. In times of crises, such as after Hurricane Sandy, or during floods, people unite in order to help one another. At such times these stories, which the media airs abundantly, help raise our morale and give us hope that the human spirit is not all bad. Alas, as soon as the next news item comes along, the media chases after that story and disappears, taking with it the belief in the human spirit. Instead, sensations of suspicion and alienation repossess prime time.
To install a lasting and fundamental change in our worldview, to make us desire the quality of bestowal, the media should present the full picture of reality, and inform us of its interconnected and interdependent structure. To this end, it should produce programs that demonstrate how that quality affects all levels of Nature—inanimate, vegetative, animate, and speaking—and encourage people to emulate it in order to equalize our society with Nature’s traits of giving, mutuality, and homeostasis. Instead of talk shows that idolize people who succeeded, these shows should praise people who helped others succeed.
If the media shows people caring for each other and puts them on a pedestal primarily because their deeds coincide with the law of Nature, the Law of Bestowal, it will gradually shift the public’s favor from self-centeredness to camaraderie. People will begin to feel that there is personal gain in being unselfish, possibly much more than the gain there is in selfishness, if there is any gain in it at all.
Today, the predominant message that the media should portray is, “Unity is fun, and it’s also good for you; join in!” There are ample ways the media can show us that unity is a gift.
Although every scientist knows that no system in Nature operates in isolation, and that interdependence is the name of the game, most of us are unaware of it. When we see how every physical organ works to benefit the whole body, how bees collaborate in hives, how a school of fish swims in such unison that it can be mistaken for a single giant fish, and how chimpanzees help other chimps, or even humans, without any reward in return, we will know that Nature’s primary law is that of harmony and coexistence.
The media can and should show us such examples far more often than it does. When we realize that this is how Nature works, we will spontaneously examine our societies and strive to emulate that harmony among us. If our thoughts begin to shift in this direction, they will create a different atmosphere and introduce a spirit of hope and strength into our lives, even before we actually implement that spirit, since we will be aligned with Nature’s life force—the Creator.
Because, as just stated, our greatest pleasure is to win people’s favor, if others approve of our actions and views we feel good about ourselves. If they disapprove of what we do or say, we feel bad about ourselves and tend to hide our actions or modify them to suit the social norm. In other words, because it is so important for us to feel good about ourselves, the media is in a unique position to shift people’s actions and views.
Not surprisingly, politicians are the most ratings-dependent people in society, as their careers and very livelihood depend on their popularity. If we show them that we have changed our values, they will change theirs to follow our lead. And one of the easiest, most effective ways to tell them what we value is to show them what we want to watch on TV! If we give high ratings to shows that promote unity and camaraderie, politicians will tap into that spirit and legislate accordingly. Because politicians want to stay in office, we need to show them that, to retain their positions, they must promote what we want them to promote—unity.
When we are able to create media that promotes unity and collaboration instead of the self-glorification of celebrities, we will create an environment that persuades us that unity and mutual responsibility are good.
[i] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, 44.
[ii] Jon R Katzenbach & Douglas K Smith, The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (US: Harvard Business School Press, January 1, 1992), 37-38.
[iii] U.S. Department of Education, “Media Guide—Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence,” http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/adolescence/index.html
[iv] University of Michigan Health System, “Television and Children,” http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm
[vi] Barbara M. Newman and Philip R. Newman, Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008), 250