I have too often seen a tragedy in the making but was a silent witness because I could do nothing to stop it. It is called alcoholism and the peer pressure that destroys lives .
Alcohol is widely used as an excuse for social interactions in most countries .This is shown in the movies, in TV shows and in real life when alcohol is used to make people happy in a group. In cowboy movies it plays an important role and the saloon is central to their story where someone comes in and orders a drink when some goons come in to pick a fight and soon everybody starts shooting at everybody. These stories are based on the reality that saloons are a place to drink even today and socialize. It was true then and it is true now except that goons are still around and often a fight breaks out in a bar or saloon over some imagined insult or past grievances.
Lonely women go to such places and order drinks to be sent to some gentleman who sits in a corner by himself. If he accepts then women come over and start a conversation that often ends up in flirting or some tragedy. This is the staple of Hollywood movies and crime thrillers but it happens everyday.
But what I want to write about is peer pressure and its bad results that can destroy lives. Of course alcohol plays a major role here in the tragedy that ensues too often.
I knew a young boy who used to play with us when we were kids. He was a normal kid just like most of us and probably had normal aspirations like most of us but as he grew older, he started on a course that ultimately killed him and that too at a young age. He dropped out of school and started drinking because the love of his life married someone else so he took to the bottle. His family thought that an arranged marriage might be what he needs to come out of depression so a plain looking girl was found and I even attended his marriage and took photos that I mailed him later on. But from there he went downhill and nothing could stop him from destroying himself and his marriage, alcohol being so addictive and damaging. Here the peer pressure tried to wean him off the bottle and even found jobs for him but failed to reform him.
The second case is more tragic. He was a very smart good looking kid who was one year junior to me in college. He graduated and got a good job and got married when his problems started. The woman he married through an arranged marriage was so bad that he started to drink until the alcohol killed him. He was so young. There are many such cases all around and one can easily see what alcohol does to people who are easily influenced by peer pressure to drink.
In the Philippines, such tragedies are common when under peer pressure a kid starts to drink at an early age of 14 or 15, drops out of high school and destroys himself. If you ask why they do what they do, they will answer that they seek company of others so that they are not lonely although this company of vagabonds comes at a price. The fear of not having friends and left out to live a lonely life is what pushes young men over to join such groups that leads to alcohol and often drugs and a life of crime. They are called the canto boys meaning they always hang around the street corners and will always ask you to join them for drinking. None of them succeed in life in getting a good education and a job and stability that everyone wishes for. The parents cannot stop such kids from this path of destruction so many parents bury their kids who could have gone to college and could have found a job later. Many try to help such people by offering them jobs but by that time the kid is addicted to alcohol and the canto boys are always waiting. An addict is always happy in their company.
Now this trend of joining the canto boys is not limited to ordinary kids who would normally go to an ordinary school and find an ordinary job later to live an ordinary life. It happens to people who join the religious vocation as well and become priests. They too form a group or join a group that always pushes alcohol so they become addicted and die of kidney or liver failure at an early age. They do not have the will power to resist and say no to such peer pressure because the allure of company that brings alcohol is so great and the fear of loneliness is too depressing for some people that they willingly destroy themselves. If asked why they do it, they will say “we die only once but we die happy” or some such glib lines.
Those kids who get through high school and get to college find that the peer pressure continues there as well. A college campus is a mixed community of students who come from different provinces so here too kids find their province mates or they find him quickly because to belong becomes a necessity for the kids who are away from their home and live alone in dorms. So they join the various campus groups like fraternities and sororities under pressure to join them citing many advantages but once too often end up in a bad way getting involved in fighting other groups and getting hazed. Many kids have died due to hazing and initiation rites.
In America often female students who join sororities are pressured to drink, take drugs and join sex orgies as conditions for them to be a part of them but for some it starts as early as high school where some kids go wrong due to intense peer pressure. I had a roommate in California who used to follow me around because I used to talk to him and he felt like talking to someone about his problems because he was lonely. Then one day he fell off his bunk bed on top of my study desk and was senseless. It was only then I noticed that he was on drugs and I could do nothing to persuade him to give it up. Soon he dropped out of college and disappeared for good.
The social taboo on alcohol and drugs that exist in some countries like India can help to some extent curb this tendency to seek bad company but the two cases I mentioned above were in my home town. A strong parental guidance and care can help a child develop values that offer him better choices in life but many parents fail in their duty to do so due to problems of their own and due to a lack of understanding of what really constitutes good parenting. Often parents ignore what the child wants to do and pressure him to become a doctor or engineer when he wants to be a musician or artist because often the parents decide what is good for the kid.
I know a case where the fanatic aunt of a kid pushed him into a seminary at an early age so that he could become a priest. He did not like to be in the seminary but no one asked him what he wanted so he became a priest but died of alcoholism that destroyed his kidneys. There are so many such examples. Banning the sale of alcohol to minors does not stop them from getting a bottle as I know too well because in California, my dorm mates often asked me to buy them alcohol. In other countries the ban of sale and distribution of liquor only drives the lucrative trade underground. Why do you think the poor people in the mountains in America resort to moonshine? It is the same anywhere because poor people take it as a source of income when they have very limited other options. During the prohibition in the United States who got very rich selling bootleg liquors and alcohol? It was the mafia that could not be stopped. When the prohibition ended because it was such a dismal failure, one particular family got the sole distributorship of imported liquor and became very rich.
The use of alcohol for socialization is a very old custom all over the world since the time man learned to make alcohol from wheat, rye, barley, from fruits and many other sources. Now the production of alcohol worldwide is a multibillion dollar industry that is perfectly legal and some countries take immense pride in the production of their wines and liquors and set up very large plantation of vineyards to produce grapes for the sole purpose of making wine. When I was working in Algeria, my apartment was at the edge of a vast vineyard and I could see tractors dragging huge trailer loads of grapes to the wineries but it is a Moslem country where drinking alcohol is prohibited so the Algerians sold their wines to France or Russia often in a barter arrangement. Later they had to uproot thousands of hectares of vineyards to plant wheat and barley.
I have been to France where every neighborhood has a store that sells hundreds of varieties of wines , rhums, whiskey etc. and where they do not ask if you are a kid or adult. Drinking wine before, during or after a meal is a part of their tradition which they value. This is the same as in Italy or many other European countries. But there is a fine line between drinking a glass of cognac or cointreau once in a while and becoming addicted to alcohol. It is understood that each individual reacts differently to alcohol. Some get very drunk quickly and lose self control while others can consume a great deal of it and still walk home normally. Some become addicted to it while others never get any addiction because they have tremendous will power and self control.
So it comes to will power and self control after all. You can often see it in a child and not in an adult. Often parents give the kids the example they follow or do not. Every kid needs someone to tell him about certain things because sooner or later he will find it out by himself. The parents play a very important role in the development of the child and his will to resist evil in any shape or form by first giving him a good example and secondly by guiding him to a better choice by explaining the benefits. Banning or punishment does not work because it makes the kids more rebellious. It is not uncommon to find pastor’s daughter ending up in sex trade or very religious parents who were very strict with their kids see them become irreligious , run away or marry someone outside their faith causing family problems.
But the peer pressure I am talking about is more ominous in nature and can literally destroy a person as I have mentioned earlier. The co workers in offices are not immune and they too exert pressure to do what they want you to do if you want to belong. This can be simply night club hopping or gambling or binge drinking at a football game.
People who resist peer pressure and do what they want to do are made of tougher material and know instinctively what is right and what is wrong and stick to the narrow path of virtue which can be lonesome but how many people are so strong and have such will power? Do you?