Chapter 10: Living In an Integrated World
An Integrated World Requires Integral Education
Integral, Unity-Oriented Education
Studying Kabbalah is a wonderful way for achieving unity. It is a method built for precisely that purpose. However, most people do not have a vigorous “point in the heart” that demands answers. It is therefore unlikely that most people will wish to engage in these studies. And yet, the need to establish a cohesive society is a global need, not a personal, Jewish, or even a country-related need.
Dave Sherman, a leading business strategist and sustainability expert, eloquently described the current global predicament in Joseph Ohayon’s film, Crossroads: Labor Pains of a New Worldview: “The latest Global Risks Report, published by the World Economic Forum, presents an astonishing risks interconnection-map. It clearly reveals how all global risks are interrelated and interwoven, so that economic, ecological, geopolitical, social, and technological risks are hugely interdependent. A crisis in one area will quickly lead to a crisis in other areas. The interconnection and complexity in this map compared to our surprise at the impact and speed of the recent financial crises illustrate the discord that exists between all the systems we have built, and shows just how disconnected we’ve become. Our attempts at managing these systems are fragmented and simplistic, and not up to the challenges that we face today.”[i]
To address precisely that contrast between our own disconnect and the interconnectedness of the systems we have built, we need to develop interconnected thinking, an inclusive perception of our world. Integral Education (IE), the previously mentioned “unity-oriented education method,” addresses precisely those points.
The term, “integral,” according to Thomas J. Murray of the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts, “means many things to many people, and the same is true for Integral Education.”[ii] The more common perception of IE, as described in Wikipedia, is that it is “the philosophy and practice of education for the whole child: body, emotions, mind, soul, and spirit.”[iii]
Relating to the whole child in the education process is certainly commendable. However, in today’s interconnected world, it is simply not enough. As we have shown in the previous chapter, we learn primarily, if not only through the environment. Therefore, the focus of education must be on fashioning an environment that instills our chosen values and information in children and adults alike.
Adult School: A Guide for the Perplexed
Besides the speaking, human level of Nature, all the other levels—still, vegetative, and animate—operate in mutual guarantee. Homeostasis, as defined in Webster’s Dictionary, perfectly matches the description of mutual guarantee on the levels below that of the speaking: “A relatively stable state of equilibrium or a tendency toward such a state between the different but interdependent elements or groups of elements of an organism, population, or group.”[iv]
Our current, predominantly capitalistic society shuns equilibrium, mocks the tendency toward it, and dreads interdependence. In fact, we endorse and campaign for the opposite. We praise individual achievements in sports, business, politics, and the academia, and we idolize those at the top. We overlook those who contribute to the well-being of the collective and cherish individualism and independence.
But a society that functions in this manner cannot last very long. Think of our human bodies. If our bodies conducted themselves by the values that dominate our society, we would not make it past the initial cell-differentiation in the embryonic stage. As soon as cells would begin to form different organs, they would start fighting each other for resources and the embryo would disintegrate. Life would not be possible if any part of it embraced the individualistic values just described. It is because life, meaning Nature, adheres to the rules of homeostasis that we can develop and sustain ourselves, and have evolved to the point where we can ponder the nature and purpose of our existence.
Indeed, not only organisms, but our entire planetary ecosystem, even the cosmos, are in a state of homeostasis. When the balance breaks down, troubles soon ensue. An eye-opening and rather amusing report submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in October, 2003 by Irene Sanders and Judith McCabe clearly demonstrates what happens when we tilt an ecosystem off its homeostatic state. “In 1991, an orca—a killer whale—was seen eating a sea otter. Orcas and otters usually coexist peacefully. So, what happened? Ecologists found that ocean perch and herring were also declining. Orcas don’t eat those fish, but seals and sea lions do. And seals and sea lions are what orcas usually eat, and their population had also declined. So deprived of their seals and sea lions, orcas started turning to the playful sea otters for dinner.
“So otters have vanished because the fish, which they never ate in the first place, have vanished. Now, the ripple spreads. Otters are no longer there to eat sea urchins, so the sea urchin population has exploded. But sea urchins live off seafloor kelp forests, so they’re killing off the kelp. Kelp has been home to fish that feed seagulls and eagles. Like orcas, seagulls can find other food, but bald eagles can’t and they’re in trouble.
“All this began with the decline of ocean perch and herring. Why? Well, Japanese whalers have been killing off the variety of whales that eat the same microscopic organisms that feed pollock [a type of carnivorous fish]. With more fish to eat, pollock flourish. They in turn attack the perch and herring that were food for the seals and sea lions. With the decline in the population of sea lions and seals, the orcas must turn to otters.”[v]
Think of the way we behave toward each other. We are competitive, alienated, isolated from each other, and aspire to excel over others. Keep in mind that this is not the exception, but the norm, the values we all teach our children as the “right” way to be. This is why an adult school, a guide for the perplexed adult, is necessary.
The way in which this school will operate should vary from place to place and from country to country. Each nation and country has its own mentality and culture, a different level of technological advancement and means of communication, and traditions by which people learn. For this reason, each country, sometimes each city will have to develop its own method of instruction. However, the fundamental content, the principles that all these adult education systems will teach must be the same. Otherwise the result will be disparity in the population’s commitment to mutual responsibility and the understanding of its importance to our lives.
Let’s examine some of the fundamental principles that education toward mutual guarantee should instill.
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.”[vi]
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.”[vii]
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.”[viii] 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.’”[ix]
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.”[x] 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.”[xi] 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] Quoted from the film, Crossroads: Labor Pains of a New Worldview, by Joseph Ohayon, published December 31, 2012, on Youtube, url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5n1p9P5ee3c, 2:53 from the beginning.
[ii] Thomas J. Murray, Ed.D., “What is the Integral in Integral Education? From Progressive Pedagogy to Integral Pedagogy,” Integral Review (June 2009), Vol. 5, No. 1, p 96.
[v] T. Irene Sanders and Judith McCabe, PhD, The Use of Complexity Science: a Survey of Federal Departments and Agencies, Private Foundations, Universities, and Independent Education and Research Centers, October 2003, Washington Center for Complexity & Public Policy, Washington, DC. url: www.hcs.ucla.edu/DoEreport.pdf
[vi] Rav Yehuda Leib HaLevi Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), The Writings of Baal HaSulam, 44.
[vii] 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.
[viii] U.S. Department of Education, “Media Guide—Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence,” http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/adolescence/index.html
[ix] University of Michigan Health System, “Television and Children,” http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm
[xi] Barbara M. Newman and Philip R. Newman, Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008), 250