Through a Jungian Lens

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Rites of Passage

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Two White-tail deer are foraging near the lake where I go golfing, a male and a female.  You can tell that it is early in the season because of the antlers that are still growing and covered with velvet on the male.  Wildlife is found in abundance here on the prairies.  It is a rare day when I don’t get to see Pronghorn antelope, Mule deer, White-tail deer, coyotes, fox, or countless numbers of birds.  The wide open spaces filled with few people makes for a good environment for abundance in nature.

In looking at this photo I find myself comparing nature and humankind.  I doubt that any of the offspring of a deer would leave home only to return and live under the authority of his or her parents as adult children.  Yet, it is getting to be something that is more and more accepted in our western society.  I can’t imagine an animal growing up and not becoming an adult intent on finding a mate and reproducing.  It’s instinctual, not something that one has to think about.

In earlier times, humans didn’t have too much of a problem with adult children returning home, giving up their personal authority back to their parents, especially giving it back to the mother.  No one expected life to be easy.  In more primitive cultures, rites of passage ensured that the boy-child left the mother and became an adult, a person in his own right.  Basic to the idea of moving from dependent to independence is the idea of separation.  One has to leave the parents, this is not something one chooses, but something that must be forced in order to allow the youth to being a process of “psychological” separation.

We send our children to university as part of their growth into adulthood.  Yet, because of our investment in our children, we find it hard to let them “fully” separate.  We let them know that they are dependent upon us for their tuition and for their living expenses.   It’s not that we intend any hurt, but simply that we want to protect.   And, we aren’t above using guilt to keep these children tied to us psychologically.

As a result, the passage from youth to adult becomes a hit and miss process.  Today, too many don’t make the passage until well into their years if at all.  It becomes a singular individual process that is more difficult than participation in a formalised rite of passage.  As Hollis says:

“Again, what is not provided us by our culture is left to us to do as individuals.  We cannot avoid the task through ignorance, for otherwise the developmental process, becoming a man, remains undone.” (Hollis, Under Saturn’s Shadow, 1994, p. 17)

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2 Responses

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  1. We have extended childhood well into the 20s for our children. During their childhood we also place more and more boundaries around them, created from our fears. We don’t let children walk to school alone, we no longer let them disappear to play with their friends for hours at a time. We take away these opportunities for learning independence as well.

    Many parents also try to stop failures – ‘It’s the teacher’s fault; the naughty floor hit you’. Without these opportunities to learn, we also fail to give chances for growth.

    Failure and doing things alone are important for becoming a capable adult.

    But – looking at doing this alone frightens us. We want people to say – you’re not alone, I’m here, I’ve got your back. We’ve been taught that this is what love and friendship is about. Maybe we need to change our views on these as well!

    Lotus Light

    May 12, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    • As I used to tell my students, you can’t really learn if you don’t make mistakes. One can learn to memorise and recite but that isn’t learning with depth.

      Robert G. Longpré

      May 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm


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