Human beings are ritual creatures. If we take away one ritual, we replace it with another. Rituals can be meaningful, and rewarding, and they can shape us into better and happier people: more empathetic, educated, honorable, and fun to be around, among other good qualities. Sometimes though, our habits and rituals form (or rather deform) our lives in destructive ways. Our rituals shape what we love and what we love can kill us, both physically and spiritually. On the other hand if done right, our habits and rituals can shape what we love and set us up for a lifetime of flourishing, joy, and fulfillment. Whichever route we take, our rituals will shape our destiny.
As a young boy I grew to love reading, politics, travel, art, history, God, exercise, the outdoors, and sports. I never really enjoyed the classroom but I did have a voracious physical and intellectual appetite for stimulation, experience, and learning. My rituals were reading on my own, exercise, sports, and the outdoors, and friendships. When I went to college, like a lot of young people I added binge drinking and partying rituals and they took me somewhat away from my first loves. A little partying is harmless but I’m afraid countless other young people have followed similar paths of self- destruction or at least potential self- destruction.
Even though I got a solid education at Auburn, what I did not realize at the time was how the social world of binge drinking was potentially dangerous. Many “adults” never make it out of this lifestyle of using alcohol and drugs excessively or worse they end up using them to deal with life's ups and downs. The results can be broken relationships, emotional immaturity, stunted intellectual and spiritual growth, and in some cases deaths and imprisonments.
100s of 1000s of other young people have similarly gone down this path. Some might say I’m being a “stick in the mud” but what can I say- I care. Look, I know young people are going to drink. Admittedly, Alcohol can add quite a bit of fun into life. It’s not the end of the world if young people drink, if it’s handled right, but I also know the culture of binge drinking can have devastating consequences. Some young people will never grow out of these consequences and will be affected for the rest of their lives.
Part of the problem is that young people, particularly young men, don’t have a cohesive life philosophy or narrative they are living out. In place of any other life path, the high school / college partying path takes over. Also, binge drinking can be a way for young men to show off, to show how much they can drink, like showing off a sports car, muscles, or anything else. It’s an unconscious way to show sexual fitness for reproduction. For women, it can be a way to escape reality or to go along socially. Women tend to be more social and tend to go along with the crowd more. If you don’t want to deal with reality, getting wasted is one of many bad options for putting off real problems or spiritual growth.
In place of any other form of meaning or spiritual depth, addictive alcohol consumption can become a “relationship” like a close friendship, or a spouse or significant other to provide meaning and intimacy. Don’t believe me? Try mentioning to someone they might have a drinking problem and watch them get defensive. You're threatening their "relationship" and ritual. It's what they love. We're not asking much out of our young people as far as contribution, or citizenship, other than for them to adopt a philosophy of utilitarian consumption and whimsical emotionalism, so why would it hurt for them to form themselves into nihilistic binge drinking "adults" and "citizens"? After all, they would still be good consumers.
What good is thousands of dollars of tuition, and 2-6 years on campus if all we get is young people formed to drink and waste money? To me, and I intuitively knew this deep down at the time I was in college, learning and becoming a productive and contributing citizen is about so much more. How about getting involved in charity work, a club, a hobby, a big project, a debate team, politics, intramural sports, or a campus club? How about starting a book club or learning a trade. There are so many opportunities for young people now to dream big and think big, outside of this. Even young people who do not go to college should be encouraged to live a well-rounded life. Being a good citizen and person means contributing and being engaged.
I now drink in moderation a few days per week and I take periods of complete abstinence. I enjoy it. Some might say those who binge drink value alcohol too much, because they overindulge, but that’s not true. For those who struggle to moderate and control alcohol, the real problem is not valuing alcohol enough and not giving it the respect it deserves. Alcohol is addictive but alcohol is not the problem. The same could be said about anger, food, work, social media, goofing off or any other type of ritual. We can overdo it quite easily and allow these bad rituals to shape us. All of these things give us endorphin highs and stimulate our brain. But why bring ourselves more pain with bad rituals? Life is hard enough at times without adding to it. Without balance and moderation, things that give us pleasure can also give us pain.
From the ancient monastic breweries of Austria and the vineyards of Sonoma, to the oak - aged bourbon barrels of Kentucky, and the craft brewery movement in the US, alcohol has long held an esteemed place in practically any rich culture. One of my fondest travel memories is from a wine and steak dinner on a farm in rural Argentina- beautiful and I love a good cold beer on a hot summer day. Alcohol will always be with us. In the time before clean drinking water, alcohol was all there was to drink. My challenge for you and I both is that we truly respect and enjoy our beer, our wine, and our spirits, and to not degrade these things or ourselves with them.
Most importantly, keep in mind that our rituals shape our life and what we love. There are millions of college and high school students who don't go down this path. They have fun and drink responsibly in college and become a happy healthy adult. How can we use rituals to be healthy, instead of unhealthy? Respect yourself enough to find rituals which will shape life into something meaningful and worthwhile. Of course, exercise makes for a great ritual and can help build mental strength and other healthy things. There’s so much more to life than drinking. We’ve all been around some people who shouldn’t drink at all. Make sure rituals build up a strong culture, not tear it down.
We all have to cope with stress, change, and uncertainty, particularly during the formative years. How will we learn to cope? The only way to ever be truly free and healthy is to learn to set boundaries and limits. Which rituals and habits will you choose to build your life around? The answer will determine how your life turns out.
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