Who Are We? Rite of Passage

For some time I’ve considered the fact that in the US  (in fact in our modern western society), we don’t have a rite of passage the way indigenous tribes do.
“Graduation from high school,” my husband countered.

“True, but that’s a far cry from walking off from the tribe, spending time in the wilderness to examine the psyche and returning to have your tribe recognize you as an adult and give you a new name and all the other benefits that go with it.”

I went on to point out that the recognition of adulthood in the US was largely left up to the family of origin, if not the community of origin, or the culture.  To compound the issue, there typically isn’t any formal declaration by families to an individual “We now recognize you as an adult.”

In some families, the individual is treated as a child until they marry.  In others, it’s until they have children of their own.  Still, in others, the family of origin never bestows the recognition of adulthood.

“I remember attending a Thanksgiving dinner,” explained one individual I spoke with, “and the grandchildren were expected to sit at tables set up away from the elders.  It reminded me of the kiddy tables I would see in certain restaurants.  The problem was, these younger people were in their 30s.”

One father told me “I asked her if she thought of herself as daddy’s little girl anymore and she said no.  That’s when I knew she’d grown up.”

I wondered how long she’d been married before this conversation had taken place.

I think that a rite of passage is an important step in self-development and maturing of the ego. It helps us identify where we fit in society.  After all, given that many of us wait until much later in life to marry, we shouldn’t have to spend our 20s single and professional but being treated as if we’re errant children for failing to fulfill some dated definition of our roles in society.

Another important effect of such recognition by the family and community of origin is respect.

“My father-in-law went through our private papers,” one woman told me, “and was basically the guest from hell. “

It’s bad enough to be treated like a child when you are a grown adult but if you actually have a youthful appearance?  Prepare for a significant delay in the respect department.

“Why, you look like my granddaughter,” one automotive customer told me during a  customer visit.  “You couldn’t possibly know how to install UNIX.”

I most certainly can, along with your NIC card and get your network up and running with a  dual boot so you can take advantage of both network protocols.

Fortunately, Mother Nature has a built-in mechanism that helps us make the transition sooner or later.

“Around 28 years old,” a friend and I discussed, “you pretty much start to grow into your own.”

“It happens again around 35,” I commented.

“That’s so true,” she agreed.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of generations lost in space and people in their 50s and 60s still waiting to be handed their scepters.

The reality is we can’t rely on something for which the mechanism simply doesn’t exist.  We don’t have any formal rite of passage in our country. 13 brought us the right to have teen as part of our identity.  16 allowed us to drive.  18 allowed us to vote.  21 allowed us to legally drink (though for many of us it was actually 19 when that honor came about).

In spite of all of this, we still find ourselves being treated as children long after we graduate from college.

“People start to treat you with a little more respect after you turn 25,” I told my brother upon his milestone birthday.  “Then it gets better around 28 and…”

He owned his own business but had some customers unable to look beyond his baby face.

“It gets better,” I assured him.

Identity is probably one of the best examples of nature and nurture.  We’re born with an innate sense of some of it but a great deal of it is formed as we mature.  We are told we are sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, Catholics or Jews or Muslims, Americans or Irish or Italian or  Bolivian.  We are told we are Michiganders or Floridians or Californians. As if any of that really means anything at the end of the day.

Like so many coats piled upon us we are bogged down by the weight of other people’s opinions and in the process of trying to breathe, we too often forget that ultimately, we are the ones who have the final say on who we are.

Every single day we have the power to present ourselves to the world the way we want the world to know us. We have the power to shed the labels of people who don’t live in our heads and our hearts.

It isn’t about them, it’s about us.  When it comes to who we are?  We have the power…


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