Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Transitioning without a Rite of Passage

 If you’re like most people I know, there has been no noticeable break between adult hood and child hood. Sure, we make the mile markers occasionally (finishing differing levels of school, working/fending for ourselves, moving out of our parents places, etc), but how often do we really find ourselves being told that we’re adults now? And how are we even suppose to really know or feel like adults? Their are various cultures that have coming of age traditions (Bar Mitzvah and Rumspringa being two well known examples) that are still widely done and still seen as an important part of one’s development into adulthood. Which brings me to question: Do people with a rite of passage into adulthood, adjust better to being “adults”?
This requires a certain definition of what being an adult entails. While it can be questioned (and I do question)  whether or not some one who does not have a rite of passage (which implies a general cultural knowledge of what being an adult in that culture is expected to be) can define an adult, it can still be assumed that North American cultures, as well as various others throughout the world, see adulthood as stepping forward and taking responsibility for our own life and actions. Since we generally have no solid coming of age rituals, when do we really start to be an adult? Arguably, it could be said that anything from our first job to when we finish school to the start of female menstruation or when we take on fuller responsibilities is the point of transition into adulthood, our own subtle coming of age rite. Any of these could apply to differently to all of us. If one person finished high school and another did not, does that mean the later is not an adult? No, it doesn’t, but this doesn’t discount this for being a mile marker into adulthood for any one else. 
While there’s not much readily, easily available information on the internet on the psychological effects on one who has any traditional rite of passage, so really, I’m talking out of my ass for the most part, it can be assumed that these rites of passage help one come to terms with being an adult and their responsibilities. It’s almost like the death of childhood and the birth of adulthood, as any basic information on these rites will tell us. It’s a solid changing of function, duties and even the persona we have in our lives. If we had these solid markers where the community around us solidified our becoming adults, would there still be such a sea of confused 20 and 30 year olds? How often do we see people spend multiple years in college or a constant change of jobs all because we don’t feel like we can make these adult decisions? Because we never have become adults (sometimes in outward treatment and other times just inward emotionally).
Even with these transitions, like the ritual of Confirmation for Catholics, sometimes we aren’t treated any differently. After my own Confirmation nothing changed: same rules, same child/parent distance, even same religious responsibilities. If this was to truly act like a rite of passage, than something would have changed for me. Since nothing did, it still is a rite, but not one of passage. Nothing was really marked for me and no one really paid much mind to it. I was still just a child.

These coming of age rituals help one to transition from one stage of their life to the next, not just from childhood to adulthood, sometimes just from one new stage to the next. Sometimes it seems we are a generation trying to build transitions on nothing, but our own psychological foundations, which as a whole tend to be shaky. I think it’s time to do our own rite of passage rituals. Something that’s more than just a first beer or a paper diploma. Something that’s big enough to mean something, yet spiritual enough to have a lasting impact. In the end, it’s a ritual that helps us move forward to become the person we’ve always wanted to be.

That being said: What will your rite of passage be?

Links For More Information:
Wikipedia’s “Rite of Passage” Page (Includes list of rites by coming of age, religion, military, academic, vocational/professional and other)

Site discussing rites of passage and their formats

Article on how rituals are help with transitional periods

Books for More Information:
The Human Encounter with Death by Stanislov Grof and Joan Halifax

(More links, articles and books will be posted when I do more research. Which will happen, because I am truly interested in the psychology behind rites of passage.)