IT'S THE CHOCOLATE NOT THE DRINK
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
Currently in Australia there is a discussion on alcohol related violence, which has recently become more of a problem. One suggestion is to raise the legal age of drinking. The other strategy is to increase mandatory sentencing for violence that is a consequence of being intoxicated.
While these measures might have a minimal effect (highly questionable), it appears that perhaps we are missing the point completely. The discussions focus heavily on symptoms, but fail to explore the cause of why we are experiencing an epidemic of irresponsible alcohol consumption resulting in anti-social behaviour.
In a TED lecture I saw recently (click here to view) the speaker presented an experiment that was done with little children of about 4 or 5 years old. They were each given a marshmallow and told that if they wanted they could eat it immediately. However if they would not eat it now but wait 15 minutes, they would get two marshmallows. Some of the children could not withstand the temptation, while others managed. The children were then monitored and observed through adolescence into adulthood. It became very clear that those who had self-control in their childhood became much more effective and successful adults.
We all like to engage in experiences that bring us pleasure. But a life that is built solely on pursuit of pleasure is one that is empty and meaningless. Pleasure is a transient 'feel good' moment that dissipates and leaves us with cravings bigger than before. If those desires are not controlled, they evolve into a lifestyle of greed, temptation and indulgence, an insatiable and unquenchable need for more and more without ever being satisfied. Today, with advances in technology and availability of resources, the pursuit of pleasure and the need for instant gratification has escalated to completely new levels.
The first step towards a life of meaning and responsible choices is the ability to exercise self-discipline and delayed gratification. Restraint puts the burning desires and raging greed on hold, creating space, allowing us to think and evaluate calmly and objectively, paving the way for healthy, meaningful and responsible choices.
However, as evident from the study in the video, many of us are not born with a natural ability for self-control and discipline - it needs to be taught and instilled at a young age. Educating our youth to exercise restraint and make responsible choices cannot begin in senior high school. It must begin when they still very young.
If when a child is six years old he/she simply cannot wait five minutes or a few hours for a chocolate and must have every new toy on the market, then how can we expect them to resist the temptation of alcohol when they are sixteen? But if we teach them self-control when they are little, they stand a chance creating that 'pause' when they are older to reflect on the value of their choices.
It is not the drinking age that is a problem. It is the age of chocolates, lollies and toys where it all begins.