Rites of Passage

I’ve been doing some thinking about rites of passage lately. Mainly, how our current culture doesn’t really have them.

In nearly all primitive cultures, there is some event that signifies the transition from childhood to being an adult. In some cultures it’s marked by the accomplishment of some act of bravery, in others it’s noted with the achievement of some level of wisdom. In ours, it’s mostly attributed to living to the age of 18. There are “mile stones”, obtaining a driver’s license, getting a first job, graduating high school, but no real rite of passage.

I feel this is one of the reasons why we have a surplus of grown men and women in our society acting like children. We really can’t hold them accountable, no one ever formally told them that they should “grow up”, so how can we honestly expect them to act like adults when they’ve never demonstrated that they could act in that capacity. I think the “should” part has the most impact here. Why should someone “man up” when they don’t have to? There’s honestly not much benefit to it, I mean, growing up sucks! In the minds of many people, there’s no up side to it. Who would want to accept all that responsibility? Trying to make a relationship work, raising kids, keeping a job, maintaining a household, being accountable for your own actions, it’s really hard! Wasn’t it so much easier when no one depended on you? When the only consequence to doing poorly was making a bad grade? When you got an allowance rather than having to work and someone else provided you with a home, clothing and food? Any amount of money you had could be spent on the things you enjoyed because someone else provided all that you needed. Those were the days huh? Why shouldn’t they last forever? Why couldn’t they?

Well, there’s no easy answer to that these days. In traditional societies, people were looked down upon and scorned if they didn’t grow up. When they did, it was cause for celebration, a welcoming into the ranks, respect, and the endowment of those things that would otherwise be unobtainable. In today’s culture, many whine their way into the ranks, demand celebration, have no concept of respect and still obtain the same things as anyone else. Peter Pan Syndrome is actually rewarded in many ways. Can’t hold a job, never graduated, can’t budget, never got a driver’s license? Don’t worry, we have social programs for that.

Much of this could be eliminated with a set rite of passage. Now, I’m not necessarily advocating that people strike out to kill a lion with a spear or walk barefoot into the wilderness for a vision quest. Our social structure isn’t set up for that and if you tried it you’ll probably get kicked out of the zoo or taken to jail for suspicion of drug use. “Honest officer, I’m just looking for spiritual enlightenment”. Our civilization doesn’t recognize the tradition anymore and I think it’s a shame. I honestly can’t think of one way that it could happen, and we’re dealing with the fallout of that now. I had thought in the past that some rite of passage could be implemented at the family level, but it still wouldn’t change how society sees our youth. No celebration for doing things right, no condemnation for doing things wrong. Since the days of personal responsibility are gone, the only thing we can do is understand how this affects our culture and do our best to deal with the consequences of that.

I do think it’s interesting to note how in almost every culture throughout time, the rite of passage is accomplished right around the time a child is turning into a teenager while our current culture holds off on calling someone an adult until they’re nearly two decades old. Maybe many adults act like children because they’ve been treated like children much too long? Maybe that’s the reason why teenagers are typically rebellious? Every fiber in their being is telling them that they need to go out into the world and gain some real life experiences to come to terms with their mission in life, but society tells them to shut up and be good little kids and stay quiet in class. We could very well be forcing kids to embrace being a child for years after they’re biologically ready to move on. Is it any wonder why so many never “grew out of it”?

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About raywiggington
I've made a lifetime of uniformed service. From being an eagle scout to a US Airman to being a correctional officer. Never so much because I wanted such things as rank or title, because those are useless in the end, but because I believe that there is good in helping others. I enjoy hunting, camping, archery, non-electric blacksmithing, and other primitive and traditional lore.

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