I traded messages with my friend last weekend after my last post. I was concerned over the reception it might receive, as I don’t normally talk about those inner most thoughts with others. It seems that it struck a nerve with some people, and it made me want to think about things further. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is that despite our technological advancements, on the whole, we’ve regressed culturally.
Looking at tribal cultures, many of them had rites of passage that are missing from modern day cultures. Granted, modern cultures have their rites of passage too. But tribal members didn’t have to get driver’s licenses, or register for the draft, or look for their first job. These things are important in today’s society. But some of the more important ones have been lost.
Ever wonder why so many men still act like boys when they grow up? In many tribal cultures, there was a ritual a boy went through before he was considered a man. He had to pass a test, often to prove that he could survive on his own. In modern America, we’ve set an arbitrary number on adulthood – 18. Oh, you’re 18 now you can do whatever you want. We send them to schools that teach them almost everything except how to survive in the real world. We don’t teach them how to manage time, how to interview for a job, how to handle money, or even how to figure out what kind of work they might like to do. Then we wonder why they are unable to make it on their own, or ‘act their age.’ Many boys no longer have a male role model or father figure to help them grow into men.
If he wanted to marry, he would have to pass another test, typically going on a hunt to bring back food. This would prove that he could provide for his wife and any children they might have. It was all well and good for a boy or man to say he wanted to do something, but he had to prove he’d be able to do it. He had to show he could walk the walk, not just talk the talk. These days a guy’s friends just throw him a bachelor party, and good luck to him.
Women had their rituals too. When a girl would have her first cycle, the event was celebrated as her moving from childhood into womanhood. Now days it’s often devolved to a short talk about here’s what’s happening, basic feminine hygiene, and don’t fool around so you don’t get pregnant. Of course, girls weren’t beginning their cycles before the age of 10 as they are now, but that’s a different topic. There was a special place set up for women experiencing their cycle, where they would have the support of other women. Now the subject is all but taboo, or worse, only subject matter for comedy.
Childbirth too, is a ritual of sorts, into parenthood. Parenting is still one of the few areas where rituals acknowledging the impact of such a life changing event are done. Only now they’re just called baby showers.
When a woman reached menopause, there was a ritual for that too. A woman’s experience was acknowledged, and she was given an exalted position within the tribe, a wise woman who had been through the maiden and motherhood years, and had the experience to help guide others. In our society, older women are casually discarded in favor of younger ones, as if they were a car to be traded in. Her experience and maturity are not considered assets, but a liabilities. Advertising proves this one most effectively. How many makeup and lotion ads are out there promising to make a woman look younger, or not her age? My opinion is, if you want to wear makeup because you feel better or look better, fine. Otherwise, celebrate your wrinkles and gray hairs and such – a lot of living went into earning them.
We are always changing, always growing, and so is society. Being a man or woman now means something different than it used to, even within modern America. Correspondingly, the paths and rites we go through to become who we are change also – sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Ultimately, it is up to each one of us to determine the path we will travel to become the people we will be. Like Robert Frost, I will continue to walk the road less traveled. Which road will you take?