Thoughts That Hurt to Think #022 – Rites of Passage are Important!

There have been very few situations in history where a country’s citizens were so soft that a large portion of them began to think that a life without challenge and growth was something they should expect the previous generation to hand down to them. I had to work through this issue, back when I had zero marketable skills and no desire to develop myself into something that others may find value in.

It might sound weird, but I realized that something was seriously missing in the way I had been brought up right around the time I hit adulthood. The initial temptation was to blame my parents and teachers and even society as a whole for my lack of direction and motivation and happiness.

(I almost wrote that ‘society as a hole’, to go for the punny. I didn’t want to mess up the flow for all you natural editors, or sound like I’m bitter when I’m really just trying to get a laugh. There are very few people out there that would not consider our country a bit of a hole in one way or another, and many Americans may be surprised to find that very few of the world’s other inhabitants are as impressed with us as we are with ourselves. I think it’s important for us to know that most people refer to us as ‘stupid Americans’ when they talk about us. This is one of the many reasons for that.)

(Back to the post now…)

No matter how far back you want to go in recorded history, you will find a commonality between nearly all societies. Whether primitive or advanced, nearly every collection of people that we have a name for has made sure that its individuals had rites of passage. Every society that has left us a comprehensive philosophy to read has talked about the importance of a rite of passage for every single person. The ones that were focused on personal growth and collective progress seemed to understand best that each member of their society needed to be placed squarely on the path to their own hero’s journey.

Thus, the rite of passage.

One of the most natural desires of each generation is to leave things better for the next. The problem is, if your kids never face the challenges you did…well, they’ll never learn the lessons you learned. They also won’t be able to appreciate the effort you made to leave them that better situation, since they will never have to make that effort. In sparing their children hardship, well-meaning but short-sighted parents also tend to spare them a number of opportunities for their personal evolution.

It’s no wonder these children don’t respect their parents: when they make themselves try to sound like heroes for being average, it sounds pathetic to the offspring. And of course the parents don’t respect the kids: they’re soft, and don’t understand how good they’ve got it. We like to call certain people primitive, here in what we have dubbed civilization; but primitive people don’t have this problem. The parents don’t stop their kids from learning how hard their life has been; instead, they prepare them to live a life that is essentially the same in every way.

That sounds kind of terrible, to me. Don’t get me wrong, and think that I wish we could all be forced to walk around in loincloths and only eat when we have had a successful hunt. The benefits of civilization are not lost on me, by any means; yet I don’t understand why civilization can’t incorporate the best of all cultures. Without a clear rite of passage, the progress made by each generation just leaves a wider gap between them and the previous generation. It also places them that much further away from some of the simple realities easily embraced by a prepubescent primitive.

Some folks in our country hunt or fish, but not very many. Those that do use bows, rifles and rods that they couldn’t possibly build themselves without using tools built by someone else. Bow season exists in most states, for hunting some kinds of wildlife; and rifle season exists right there with it. Yet there is no ‘bare hands’ season, or ‘homemade bow and arrow’ season; the most basic requirement for many boys to become men in the world is legally closed to those of use with access to modern weaponry. And well it should be; the last thing we need are countless wounded game animals bleeding out in the forest because a bunch of morons are trying to kill them with sharpened sticks instead of a rifle.

Even more people garden in America, and that’s nothing but good news. Young people are taking to growing their own food more than ever, which finally gives me something nice to say about them. But they are standing on the shoulders of giants as well: without the seeds and starts they can buy at the store, and the soil and amendments to go along with them, nearly all of us that call ourselves gardeners would struggle to grow enough food to sustain our families. We might be able to find some stuff in the woods to eat, but I’m willing to bet most of us would be no better at gathering wild foods au natural than we would be hunting them.

So what, right?

Well, yeah…so what? As long as we have civilization, we don’t need to know how to survive without it. If we manage to destroy nearly all of life on Earth with advanced weapons, maybe this is nature’s way of making sure none of the people who made those weapons know how to live in the resulting conditions. History tells us that every civilized culture falls eventually, while primitive cultures continue to exist in pretty much the same way for tens of thousands of years.

Unless they’re encroached on by civilization, and crushed by it or absorbed by it. Then their customs and their knowledge is lost, usually within a generation or two. With the amount of information that we all carry around in our heads, it’s hardly ridiculous to think we could retain some form of this knowledge as well. That’s all I’m really trying to say, that the best of the one should be absorbed by the other along with its land and people.

If I had more space to go off, I might list examples of rites of passage that exist in the world. I’d definitely go off about the benefits of a ritual of this sort, other than surviving in the apocalypse. That’s a whole post in itself, along with the fun that must be poked at the folks who claim that something like prom is a legitimate rite of passage. The best chance a young person has of getting a proper rite of passage in our country when their parents or community doesn’t provide it is military service. Again, that’s a subject that would take up a whole post. I’d spend the whole thing arguing about how a peaceful nation should make service mandatory, and give young people the rite of passage they need without forcing them to take life.

Yeah, that’s right. In a perfect world, I think everyone should spend a couple years in the military. I think we should all learn basic survival skills and then test them in real life at least once. That way, next time a giant meteor impacts the Earth it won’t be up to primitive people to keep our DNA alive while our technology dies. We can get things up and running in less time than ever, if the men and women who built the technology also know how to live off the land. We might keep the good traditions and get rid of the bad, instead of doing away with civilization altogether. Again.

Speaking of good traditions…

Since time immemorial, couples of all shapes and sizes and sexes have had a desire to join their lives in some type of ritual or ceremony. Much like the rite of passage works for the individual, these ceremonies help clarify and solidify commitments made by partners to themselves and each other. Nonetheless, most of the things modern Americans do when they get married tend to shy away from ancient custom and instead take on a whole new shape. As beautiful as weddings can be, these days, it’s still quite evident when you think about it…

‘There’s nothing traditional about marriage!’

Won’t you come back next week, for a post by that name?

Thanks for reading!

All the best,

J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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