Coming of Age Rituals

[epistemic status: pure speculation]

1) There has been many articles written on the phenomenon of prolonged adolescence. Some downsides to this: immaturity, an unwillingness to learn about how to do your taxes even after you have to do your own taxes, and engaging in risky behaviour such as binge drinking, regular drug use, and unsafe sex. Let’s take the premise that this is bad, even though there are actually lots of upsides also to prolonging adolescence.

2) In a class I’m taking we’re learning about something called the Pygmalion Effect, which is that when you know you’re expected to do something, you will do it better than someone who doesn’t have this expectation.

w/r/t coming of age rituals: if there is an expectation that you’re more mature now, you’re going to start behaving more maturely. If you think that you should be wiser now, you’ll start to be more considerate of all your actions. If going through a widely used and recognized ritual causes everyone to expect you to start behaving like an adult, then that will happen.

Another good thing that will come from a widely used coming of age ritual is that it bridges the generational schism, which is currently awful and still getting worse.

If there was something that everyone has gone through, then it’s something that everyone can talk about. It’s a way to connect to everyone, from the bus driver to people in retirement homes to your professors and bosses. It might have to be something kind of unpleasant, to build a “haha yeah we all had to go through this hell” sense of camaraderie. I talked to a Danish person in a Discord that said that this is basically what happens in Denmark, because of mandatory military service.

(This would contribute to immigrants and refugees feeling even more isolated and not like part of the community, though.)

3) There are many problems with things that are similar to coming of age rituals in North America today. 

  • The “sweet 16” celebration is very gendered, and has a very sexualized undertone. I would argue that it allows girls to see themselves as sex objects, instead of women.
  • Things like a hazing process in universities and colleges can be coercive and abusive. Also, they are limited to the group of people who go to institutes of higher education.
  • Things like losing your virginity is, like, just a bunch of patriarchy nonsense. Also the concept of virginity as we see it now is still kind of homophobic?
  • Some countries have mandatory military service or training, and this seems like a good idea in comparison with the rest of the things. My dad was in the generation that had all males doing mandatory military training in China. He said that it helped him a lot with some basic life things, like keeping organized and maintaining good posture. He also got to build forts out of school desks with his classmates, which sounds like the coolest thing ever. However, I’m iffy about having something innately nationalist, violent, and masculine being the rite of passage. I will reconsider this if I can be guaranteed an opportunity to build forts out of desks. (disclaimer: I am an immigrant and my family was dirt poor when we came to Canada. I remember being so amazed that not only did the government help us so much with just living stuff like housing credits and food stamps, there were also things like free, public libraries that gave away free passes to the zoo and subsidized swimming and skating classes at community centres. Ever since I moved here I have loved our government. It has major flaws, but I believe that Canada is a beautiful country still and I will be forever grateful to it for giving me the childhood that I had. But as much as I love Canada, I think standing for the national anthem during grade school is about as nationalist as it should get.)
  • Getting married. No.
  • Getting your driver’s licence. Maybe okay, but limited to those who can, well, drive. Which means, less prominence in urban areas, and in poorer communities. I have a feeling that as urbanization and ride-sharing tech progresses this one will be phased out.
  • Moving out. Won’t be applicable to cultures that live in inter-generational households.
  • Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Okay these are pretty great, carry on, except maybe the part where some girls are gifted with nose jobs. But too local to a specific community.

4. I think we should have a coming of age ritual. But what would a modern one look like? My first thought was that you can’t just make one up, since they’re entrenched in tradition. But some examples that I gave aren’t particularly ritualistic at all, and honestly, it doesn’t take very long at all for traditions to get entrenched.

What do I want in a coming of age ritual?

  • Civic pride and a sense of civic duty would be good, but it would need to be done very carefully to not veer into nationalism.
  • The seven unitarian principles might be a good starting point, but I have a feeling that it would inspire too much useless (or actively harmful) voluntourism.
  • In a previous iteration of this post I suggested a short internship in a government office, but wow, looking back, I can’t imagine anything less inspiring than that. No offence @civil servants, I will join your ranks after I’m done school after all!!!

If I’m allowed to indulge my inner romantic futurist, I think we can afford to shelve this idea until space travel is affordable to all. Because I think the ideal coming to age ritual might be a trip to the moon.

It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.
— Neil Armstrong

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