Tuesday, August 09, 2005
The Rituals Of Responsibility
They are a worthy goal, an aspiration, a credo by which we live and build our society. But they are not enough if they don't have a solid, healthy, timetested culture behind them, because there's a whole lot more to human beings than just rationality or irrationality. Religion can help to transmit that culture. Family helps to transmit that culture. An ethnic tradition helps to transmit that culture.
By "culture" I'm talking about the traditional wisdom and rituals we use to guide ourselves in the paths that have been proven to work. And I feel very sorry for those who don't have some sort of guidelines like that, because all our enlightened society can do or say does not address situations like Darcey's. When you read a post with these lines you know it's going to be a rough ride:
Reading this old column hit an edge with me this morning as I was thinking about my youngest brother who was beaten and left for dead last Friday night in Manitoba.But for me this one is an even rougher ride than I expected. It hits very close to home. For Darcey it's real agony. Rage and bitter, bitter suffering. It's not like I haven't been through it with members of my own family.
I know exactly why his brother is doing what he's doing. It always seems like a good idea at the time. Always. In fact, every terrible idea I've ever had still really sounds good to me at some level. It sounds like fun. It is fun. As Darcey says, the only cure for that is to learn to be a man, or a woman. To learn to take responsibility for yourself and to hold yourself accountable for your actions. To believe that you can control yourself and then to control yourself.
There's a ritual that's common to many cultures, and it involves the coming of age. Bar Mitzvah is one of them. It's usually a ritual that involves some sort of trial or test, and it's a ritual that marks your entry into adulthood, your coming of age and your assumption of responsibility for yourself. Traditionally it's done much younger than our coming of age rituals, as feeble as they are.
And some people need them. They need them young, at 13, 14, 15 or 16. They need to encounter that test when they are desperately eager, with all the formless desires and drives of adolescence, to be taken seriously and to be accepted into that status within the group. They need to fear the test, and they need to channel all that drive to pass the test and then to assume the role of adulthood. At that age it's both an instinctual and ego-driven desire. At that age it's relatively easy to pass such a test.
Darcey's right about not doing his younger brother any favors. Now his brother has to face and pass that test with all the ingrained adult habits of failure and all the learned and practiced patterns of avoidance and excuses. It's much harder to deal with this particular struggle when you are an adult. Much, much harder.
I am not sure that our compassion and our excuses for bad behavior are at all wise. Our permissive culture isn't offering this test to younger people. If a family or cohesive social unit can't offer it they simply don't get the chance. Some of us really need that test to claw our way into adulthood on our own two feet.
And there's another test involved in these cultural rituals - the test for the adults who must also participate. The adults have to step back from the children they love and allow them the possibility of failure. They have to throttle down their protective instincts and their anxious love in order to allow the children to become adults. It's a test for three generations at once. We are poorer and weaker because we've forgotten these rituals and what lies behind them.
It's a lovely set of rose-tinted glasses that we've donned, but the colors of reality still exist and we can't change them by refusing to see them. Darcey writes of the cruelty of compassion. The old people know that sometimes what seems like compassion is really condescension and disrespect.
There is nothing more bittersweet than the passage you write of- a necessary reality we all must endure, the lesson learned that we alone, via our actions, will author our destiny.
It isn't in the words, however presented, that make the difference in our lives.
It is in the actions.
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