Question: If a person goes down the wrong path, say, plunges into alcoholism, then as a rule he either hits rock bottom, or destroys himself, or some inner transformation takes place. Essentially, the entire humanity is going down this path right now. Our task in the integral education courses is to provide a person with a tool that would keep him from destroying himself, from breaking his life into pieces. Can a turning point occur in the middle of the process and not in its end?
Answer: One of man’s qualities is empathy. If we show someone who is setting out on a vicious path (say, of drug abuse) another individual whose life hangs by a thread due to these very drugs, I think it will have a strong impact on him, regardless of whether or not he wants to quit.
If we take people through a hospital’s cancer ward, they will see what smoking does. Personally, I smoke, quite moderately, in my opinion, but nevertheless I do. So I know for myself that had I walked through such places in my time, it would have affected me strongly. And if I found myself in an environment that disdains smoking and expresses its contempt towards smokers, I would naturally have a sensation that would force me to realize the vice of this action.
That is why everything depends on the extent to which I can absorb from my environment the missing quantity of the realization of evil that I’m lacking in order to break from the transitional state, where I am still receiving pleasure and still haven’t fully destroyed myself.
For that I need a serious environment, community, group, or a class in which I study. We know that if the public opinion of a group of people follows a certain trend or adheres to some special principles, everyone is involuntarily obliged to follow that. The herd instinct is inherent in people because a person evaluates himself or herself only relative to others. One cannot allow oneself to be better or worse than the rest. What matters to people is their importance in the eyes of society, but whether this importance is positive or negative makes no difference to them. Therefore, if we create a certain social standard, all people will be obliged to obey it—this is how we are created.
From a “Talk on Integral Education” #5, 12/13/11