An increasing number of social scientists, commentators and youth specialists have noted that the absence of contemporary rites of passage and sense of community have contributed to many problems with youth, their families and communities. They suggest that youth engage in drinking, drugs, violence, gangs, delinquency, hazing and bullying in schools and many other behaviors as their rites of passage. It has been suggested that these ‘risk-taking’ behaviors are a result of a youth’s innate need to be initiated. If communities will not initiate their young, they will self-initiate, often with disastrous outcomes.
If the children are indeed our future than the stories about how we educate and help them come of age are the most important stories we need to get right.
Rites of passage can be a unifying story that conveys values and exemplifies behaviors more favorable to strengthening climates of civility, compassion, respect and civic engagement in our families, schools and communities and in a form that includes Earth and all our relations. Children can be initiated in ways that strengthen their own cultural identity and affirm their connection to community, nature and all things.
Initiation and rites of passage that are performed as a program, outside of and not in connection with a child’s parents, community, culture/ancestors, and the place in the natural world they live, will be an inadequate interpretation and enactment of our shared sacred story.
Hidden deep within van Gennep’s original text are subtle yet vital clues to the power and utility of rites of passage and its reciprocity and relationship between a child and their community. His study of initiation has implications for learning theory and his thesis has direct relevance for theories of change as well as a central story that can stimulate a dynamic community organizing process.
The story of rites of passage as a framework for youth and community development can weave together elements of the sacred in secular forms that convey values and ethics essential to the survival of the Earth, all our relations and ourselves. Children are our dreams for the future. What they hear and see they remember and become. How we educate and help them come of age will determine our future.
Joseph Campbell said in 1988 that modern culture is moving too rapidly to mythologize, and the introduction of changes to our culture has no story preceding them. When we recognize and remember the history and potential of rites of passage we can tell its story the rite way and our future will turn out all right.
For more of the story, see Why Youth & Community Development through Rites of Passage Now?