Systems theory tells us that we as people and as groups of people (all systems, really) tend towards homeostasis. This means we like stability and resist change, but are open to some changes which we then make our own and a new homeostasis is established. A system (or person, or community) can be closed, or too resistant to change, in which case the system gets stale from lack of input and collapses in some way; or the system can be too open, in which case the center doesn’t hold and the system breaks apart or is subsumed into another system. The process of adopting something new is usually uncomfortable; but since change comes, whether we like it or not, we are always responding and making adjustments.
Here is an illustration, taken from a sermon given at the UU Church of Palo Alto in 2006 by the Reverend Darcy Laine:
…”We also learned that if Mom starts changing the way she deals with her anger in a more healthy way, the system [family] will push back, trying to return to homeostasis, but that the family system also has the capacity to change and grow based on the novelty introduced to the system.”
(full sermon is here: http://www.uucpa.org/sermons_06/sermon060115.html)
What relevance does this have for those of us who have chosen to follow the Buddha’s path?
One example is how we develop the fifth precept: “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking intoxicants causing heedlessness.” If one person in our social group (family or other) decides to stop taking intoxicants, it will most likely cause friction. Others may feel they are being judged or that it represents a threat. However, over time, everyone adapts. The character of the group will evolve, with some peoples’ views changing. The system might not continue in its previous form; it might split in two, or some members might come into the group and others leave.
We humans are awkward creatures. We want things to stay the same and at the same time want them to improve. We want to be happier but are reluctant to let go of deeply held habits and views. If we acknowledge these facts about ourselves and the people we know, it may become easier to recognize the assumptions and patterns that limit us. We may be able to change some unhealthy habits of body or speech. Who knows? We might even start to meditate and continue until it becomes a habit.