Rites of passage as transcending the self!

I’ve neglected the rites of passage issue on this blog for a little while.  Malawi has stimulated my thinking on questions of entrepreneurship. 


Not that I haven’t been thinking about r of p at all.  In fact a couple of weeks ago I gate crashed an after school Christian club and had an interesting chat with about thirty teenagers about questions of growing up in Malawi.  More on that to come.


On rites of passage, I think three things are important:

1. That the activity engaged in is ‘meaningful’.

2. That there is recognition (probably for the completion of the activity) by the community.

3. That a period of coaching or mentorship by ‘elders’ occurs.


It seems that r of p are principally about transcending the self.  After all this is what adulthood is about isn’t it?  Finding that there are responsibilities which tie us inevitably to a wider community?


Perhaps the word ‘transcend’ brings up connotations of a middle class guy ‘finding himself’ in the third world, but it’s about the feeling we have when we work in a team, care for people around us, see a great film or listen to a great piece of music…  It’s often in the things that societies do for no productive purpose, but it can also be when we are at our most productive.


Schools must, I should think, respond to the primeval instinct to transcend the self.  They sometimes do – maybe sports days, concerts, maybe some lessons, maybe even some assemblies.  But the very structure of the school year should be built around opportunities to realise we are a part of something bigger.


And let’s not forget that the majority of pupils who cause problems (some of whom later fill our prisons) are invariably the least able to get beyond a self centred, child-like response to the world.  Our very role as educators should be that they become (young) adults.



One thought on “Rites of passage as transcending the self!”

  1. Had a question by email following my Jan postcard, on how important I think religion is to resolving the big picture/small act dichotomy. Here’s my reply. It contains many of the same ideas as the post above, I think.

    Religion to resolve the big picture/small act? Good question. For me it’s relatively important, but I’m pretty passionate about religion being a question of private conviction. I certainly wouldn’t want to use it to frame or back up any arguments in the public sphere. What I do think is that there’s something pretty vital in (not sure what to call it without sounding too new age) transcending the self – or just basically realising that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves, or perhaps rather (because that sounds rather totalitarian) that we are all invariably connected. I think this is quite a large part of what adulthood is about – growing up to take responsibility, realising consequences, having to interact in a pretty sophisticated way with society. A lot of the ‘problem’ youth in the UK are ‘problems’ precisely because they maintain a self-centred, child-like view of the world.

    This is where rites of passage should fit into education – part of their reason d’etre should be to provide the kind of experiences that make us realise that the egotistical child (as all children are psychologically and probably physiologically too – there’s probably something survival related in the brain that determines it… ) is only part of our existence. This transcending the self comes in part through knowledge of the rest of the world, in part through working with others, in part in working for others, it requires empathy, often it is found through Art.

    So to answer your question. The resolution to that perennial problem can only be begun to be solved by empathetic people, who understand the relationships between themselves and others. Whether religion helps them to do that is not really anybody’s business, and anyway if religion is dictated as policy it never has the desired effect. But society ignores at its peril the truly primeval requirement for the kind of experiences that makes us remember we are more than the sum of our parts.

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