I'm reading
Belonging through rites of passage
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Belonging through rites of passage
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Belonging through rites of passage
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
30 September 2019

Belonging through rites of passage

What if the answer to the problems we’re experiencing as a modern society lies in the ancient wisdom of Rites of Passage?

Written by Arne Rubinstein

This story originally ran in issue #60 of Dumbo Feather

The biggest learning from my scholarship to Harvard University Business School was that, “In crisis there is opportunity.” Time and again I have seen the truth in this simple, profound statement. As we find ourselves facing a crisis like no other— when the future of the world is under threat from human-made short sightedness, extinction rates are greater than ever, oceans are polluted with plastic, record numbers of teenagers have mental health issues, elders have no clear roles, there is a tsunami of technology, and Artificial Intelligence threatens to make humans totally obsolete—the opportunity must indeed be great.

What if the answer to these most modern of problems actually lies in the ancient wisdom of Rites of Passage that have been practiced by Indigenous communities globally for thousands of years? And what if their simple but profound message—that everyone is connected and of equal value and must be supported to find their true purpose—is the medicine we need?

In most traditional cultures, Rites of Passage will mark, celebrate and witness the pivotal stages of development, from birth to young adulthood, parenthood to eldership and eventually death. It is a way of maintaining social structure so that each person knows their position and role within the community, and importantly, the community knows each person’s role, and when it changes.

The biggest shift is typically adolescence. Not only is it a physical change, but also psychological. A Rite of Passage at this stage fosters a shift from an egocentric, “I’m the centre of the universe” mindset to one where the individual’s role is actually to serve and prioritise the community (hard to imagine, I know, if you have a teenager!).

With the demise of Rites of Passage in our modern Western culture, we are faced with the disastrous consequences of men who are still acting like boys— perhaps men who still need acknowledgement, or can never admit they are wrong, or are looking for a mother figure. The issue here is with persistent boy behaviour in adult men that is toxic, self-serving and disrespectful of women. Tragically, this behaviour can be seen in many of the leaders of our nations.

But here’s a beautiful thing: the best way that individuals can serve is through their natural gifts, their genius or spirit—essentially, by being themselves and giving to their communities. In Indigenous cultures, it was the role of the elders to recognise and bring out those gifts and the spirit that was first seen in each of the children. “Educare” is the root of our word “education,” and it means, “To lead out from within.” So it is not a choice between the individual or the state, because the best way to actually serve is to become yourself. It is not a sacrifice; it is the most natural thing imaginable.

We all need to keep evolving, not just our children. So many adults are stuck in one particular life stage, and feel frustrated but don’t know how to move on. Rites of Passage are not supposed to be done in isolation. As a child becomes a young adult, their parents also need to step into the next stage of their lives. We must move on and give space for the young to have their time, rather than needing to hold on to power.

Each of us must look for the tell-tale signs of frustration that signal a need for change at a particular life stage. We ignore it at our peril. Sadly, elderhood is not coveted or respected like it needs to be in these times, and there is a global marketing campaign telling us that youth is the desirable and only really acceptable life stage. One of the most significant roles of the elderly should be to care for and pass on wisdom to the young, thus freeing up those in the middle to pursue their desires. Not surprisingly, it was the elders who were responsible for overseeing the Rites of Passage in traditional cultures, and their timely delivery.

As a 55-year-old man with two sons aged 27 and 29, it is not the time for me to be telling them how to live their lives. I can be there to support them when they need me, to answer their questions and to share my stories, but I have to accept they make their own decisions. In my work professionally, it is time for me to be fully focused on empowering the next generation of young enthusiasts who have great skill and big energy. I am moving towards elderhood and hopefully grandparenting at some stage. My goal is to embrace that, rather than try to hold on to and pretend to be an age that has had its time. It is not easy but I know that it will free me up to enter a new and equally rewarding stage in my life.

Arne Rubinstein

Dr Arne Rubinstein is an expert on adolescent development, with 30 years experience as a medical doctor, counsellor, mentor, speaker and workshop facilitator. His programs and seminars have been been attended by over 25,000 people globally and are designed to support boys to successfully make a safe, healthy transition to young men, with a particular focus on creating coming of age Rites of Passage. In 2008, he was nominated for Australian of the Year for his groundbreaking work with youth.

Dr Arne’s 2013 book, The Making of Men, has become a bestseller and is a practical handbook for parents and teachers of boys. It is the culmination of his years of experience in working with teens and their parents, in particular fathers and sons.

His work has been informed by practising for 15 years as a GP specialising in adolescent health, and preventative and emergency medicine. He is the passionate father of two wonderful young men, a mentor to many, a practising ER doctor, as well as being a keen surfer and musician.

http://themakingofmen.com/

Feature image by Tammie Joske

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