I met some interesting and sensitive men recently at an week long primitive skills event, a few of which I had a chance to ask about boys’ rites of passage in our culture and what they thought about them.
One guy, Robert Campbell, said he’d put some thought into what I had said. The next day when I saw him, much to my surpise, he handed me notes he’d written, all questioning the ability to shed childish ways in light of modern-day life. I thought I’d share these with you (with his permission) over my next few posts and add a few of my own thoughts along with it.
Physical strength is Robert’s first line of inquiry. He feels that as the industrialized world and machinery continue to allow a single human being to do the work which had previously required more people and more time (chainsaws as opposed to axes, lawn mowers instead of scythes, cars instead of walking, etc), we discover that physical strength, stamina, and endurance are less apparently needed.
He asks, what are the consequences of not drawing upon human strength? And – more importantly with respect to boys’ rites of passage, how will a human develop its potential if it is never tested? He finishes by asking if a human with low physical power can truly attain adulthood and shed their childish ways.
These are ideas I hadn’t thought about when I started writing about boys’ rites of passage a few postings ago. Could it be that the lack of testing of physical prowess be at least partially responsible for the immaturity we expect and guide our children – and for the sake of this blog, our boys – to display?
In other cultures, boys and girls – young men and women in their early teens – are expected to step up to the plate and assume responsibilities in the community. Real responsibilities like parenthood, providing food, managing a home, or caring for others. This is quite different from the minor and sometimes bogus responsibilities we give our children. Because they know these are not real responsibilities I wonder how seriously they take them, and how much, in fact they resist, rebel against, and even sabotage them as a result.
I think it’s interesting that Robert notes the paucity of tasks in our daily lives which require physical strength, stamina, and endurance because this is at the very heart of rites of passage rituals. To test oneself is always a gratifying exercise, but how can we expect our boys to develop physical strength, stamina, and endurance if our everyday lives are full of digital and mechanical devices?
Maybe this is why people put their kids into sports activities. I’m not against sport per se but against the rampant competitiveness them. The other way I see of developing physical strength, stamina, and endurance in our children is through primitive skills that also encompass a reverence and respect for nature – and in keeping with the rites of passage – a recognition that one is but a small part of a larger community.
By teaching them how to survivie in nature, how to find food, build fires, and build shelter, they will be exposed to the challenges needed to embark on an expedition to test those very things and give them the confidence and transition that comes with accomplishing them.
Our family loosely follows the Waldorf philosophy, but writing this today makes me think I should pursue some of its teachings a bit more rigorously. In a nutshell, the part of the Waldorf philosphy I am referring to advocates using physical labour and non-mechanized tools and equipment as much as possible, not only to increase awareness and appreciation for the work required to do something, but also for the physical joy of using your body.
And once again I am struck by how nature, despite all the abuse we have meted out to her, will once again lead us out of our misbegotten ways and onto the right path.