What’s the story? is the 10th element in the architectural structure for youth and community development through rites of passage. Stories, myths, legends passed down from previous generations convey values and ethics that serve survival. Everyone has a story that informs their world-view and beliefs, guiding their lives into meaningful actions.
We are at a time of dramatic change. The stories we tell about this time and our lives shape what we believe, informing and guiding how we act. If we believe that violence is caused primarily by the availability of guns then this story will direct our actions to focus on gun control. When we see the world through a mechanistic story of cause and effect our actions will be linear and limited, leading us to focus on a single solution. In a living system – where all things are related – a single solution is inadequate.
What is a more adequate story for this particular time of great transition? For thousands of years rites of passage have been the way we transmitted values and ethics, that have established expectations for behavior, that are essential for survival to the next generation. How have we been doing transmitting values and ethics, essential for survival to our next generation? Rites of passage is an important story that we’ve forgotten.
Let me tell you a story:
A very long time ago there lived a tribe. One day a great peril fell upon the tribe, which placed them all in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. The people were afraid they might perish and went to the Chief.
“What shall we do?” they asked.
“We should ask the wise old one,” responded the Chief.
And so they asked the wise old one in the presence of the tribe.
“Wise one,” the Chief began, “We are facing a great peril. Our whole tribe is in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. What are we to do?
The wise one thought for a moment and replied. “I heard that there used to be a place we would go at times like this but I can no longer remember where the place is. I do know that there also used to be a prayer that we would say and a song that we used to sing. The prayer and the song I do remember.” The wise one led the people in the prayer and they all sang the song and the tribe was saved.
Years later, another event occurred that placed this same tribe in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. The people were afraid that they might all perish and went to the Chief. The Chief, in turn went to the great grandchild of the wise old one of long ago, who was now an elder in the tribe.
The chief convened the tribe around the sacred fire and asked the wise one: “Our people face a great peril. We are in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. You are the great grandchild of the legendary wise old one and carry the wisdom of our ancestors. What shall we do?”
The wise old elder thought for a great time while the tribe waited anxiously and then began to speak slowly, gazing off into the distance. “I heard that there used to be a special place we would go at times like this. But, I do not remember where it is any more. And, I recall that there was also a special prayer that the people used to say, but again I am sorry, for I do not remember. I do know for certain that there used to be a song that was sung at times like this. But, I’m afraid it was very long ago, and I do not remember the song either.”
So, having lost not only the knowledge of the sacred place, but also the special prayer and the song to sing the tribe was filled with fear. But, the wise one did not despair and told this story and the tribe was saved.
Stories are powerful. Just telling the story saved the tribe. Indeed, aren’t we, as a people, facing great peril and imminent danger – under threat of great harm? Even the most optimistic or naïve among us must acknowledge dark clouds on humanity’s horizon. We need to remember and tell the story of rites of passage. We know it well. It’s deep in our bones. The celebration of a rite of passage is renewing for the entire community. A child’s public expression of and commitment to a community’s values and beliefs reinforce expectations for behaviors. A child’s coming of age presents an opportunity for the whole community to examine, adapt and re-commit themselves to their social and cultural heritage. It takes a whole child to raise a village that helps the tribes around our country and the world to be saved.
For more information on the story of youth and community development through rites of passage visit us at: www.rope.org – You thoughts and comments are welcome. Please send to: email@example.com