Rites of Passage: Do We Need Them?
Taken from their parent's at an early age of seven, boys were forced into circumstances that would impel them to discover their limits. Made to fight, steal and even kill just to put a morsel in their mouths, they had to endure new extremes through a ritual called, the agoge. The agoge was a requirement for all young men before they could be introduced back into Sparta as young men ready for life as warriors. Does our culture have anything like this and do we still need it?
To start, a rite passage is not just an event intended to beat the living heck out of a person, the process has a more important purpose. A rite of passage starts by pulling an individual out of their existing societal standing, where the individual is thrown in to a state of limbo. Individuals are then tested through a series of events before they’re introduced back in to society in a new standing; for Spartans, young adults became warriors. Our armed services, colleges, religious retreats and many others are all rites of passage. And I do believe we need them because they help people realize they can do a lot more than they realize when put to the test: mentally, physically and spiritually.
For those joining the military, the rite of passage starts the moment an individual arrives at basic training. Their previously known identities are stripped away; hair buzzed off for men or cut to their neckline for woman; clothes stripped away and replaced with a common look; and almost every old behavior and habit are snuffed away, at least temporarily, and replaced with a new ones. Once everyone is on a common playing field, people are forced into a constant whirlwind of stress and training they would be hard pressed to find in any other situation. As they find and constantly push their boundaries, they learn to accept a new normal. This is the point they’re reintroduced into society a different person: a member of the armed forces.
For those pursuing the college experience, it's designed to do the same. Young adults move out of their home, many get their first jobs, study on their own without their parent‘s direction, and explore new friends and adventures they normally wouldn’t experience if they just stayed home. The teachings they're pushed into and the personal experiences fostered throughout college are designed to develop new skills, capabilities and confidence that prepare them for an ever evolving workforce after graduation.
Challenges exist though for many leaving the military or college. Individuals transitioning from the military to civilian life encounter many challenges, two most common: 1) the sense of camaraderie once drilled into your head is gone, 2) combat veterans with PTSD struggle with reintegration. For many who chose college as their path, the education system is failing young adults. Instead of graduates coming out prepared for a new life, they’re indebted in student loans - essentially trapping an entire generations into a rite of financial despair.
Challenges such as these, and many others in life, have people seeking milestones in life that can serve as a foundation for their lives. Personally, this is one big reason I seek out physical adventures, such as triathlons, obstacle races, adventure racing, and marathons. And, i'm not the only one. These events are just getting more and more popular, and the events are getting bigger and harder than ever: ultra marathons, multi-century bike rides, multi-day adventure races, etc...
Rites of passage were something cultures forced people in to, nowadays, people are searching for their own adventure. Have your had your rite of passage? If not, what will it be? Please share in the comments.