Following up on my previous post about the essential truths to be communicated in rites of passage from boys to men, here are some specifics about the characteristics of such a ritual.
It seems like the main thing is that the rite of passage be seen as an exercise in a boy discovering himself rather than proving he can endure whatever challenge it presents. It should answer the question “who am I?” in a deep and profound way. And it should involve the important and influential men in that boy’s life.
Neither can ritual be a spontaneous event. It must not only be planned but also anticipated. Ideally, as in other cultures where male initiation rites of practice are a matter of course, the older men who plan and execute it would have gone through the same thing themselves, but I doubt that is very common in this culture.
And though it is anticipated, it should also be mysterious. There should also be an element of suffering in it to challenge a boy’s strength, endurance, or bravery.
The endurance activity could be a long swim, a challenging hike, spending a night alone. Something that appeals to that particular boy’s interests and aptitudes but also pushes him to his limit. Something that reveals to the boy his ability to test himself and give him a deeper sense of who he is.
An important part of the ritual is the closing celebration where each of the men important to that boy speak about what they value in life.
One thing that rings true for me from all of this is for men and boys to realize they are not the centre of their own stories – that they are part of a community of people who have contributed to their development.
I admit I often find men and boys arrogant, oblivious to the things others are doing or have done for them – birthed them, carried them, fed them, protected them, taught them, nurtured them, loved them – all along the way.
Yet authors Stephen James and David Thomas who wrote Wild Things: the art of nurturing boys say that nothing is more stressful or scary for a boy than having the world revolve around them so maybe, once again, the arrogance of men and boys is nothing but bravado and that they really are afraid of what they perceive as their own self-importance.
If rituals would help smooth out this anxiety and make men and boys more mature and appreciative I would be very happy. Because even if they are suffering inside because of this sense of self-importance, it often imposes on the goodwill and respect of girls and women and that feels more immediate and important to me.
I get annoyed at men who feel hard done-by or unable to give when I look at the advantages they receive by dint of that y chromosome. And I feel exasperated that we have to (once again) help them recover their emotional strength while women are walking the streets in poverty, living with husbands who are dangerous, and putting themselves down to bolster some man’s ego.
Yet once again, through the miracle of mothering a son, I am recharged to change the circumstances of boys and men and to sympathize with their struggles but I am compelled to do that – ultimately – to better the lives of girls and women (myself included) and world peace in general.