The author Richard Strozzi-Heckler wrote in “In Search of the Warrior Spirit“…
“How do we fulfill our spiritual yearnings in a society that places materialism as its highest good? What makes life so dreary that men cheered in the streets when WWI was declared? Perhaps the men in these small towns are really marching away from boredom and lack of meaning, and not so much toward war. During his visit George mused that ‘it may not be that war is so often vivid, but that peace is so often drab. The end of war may require the creation of a peace that is not only just, but vivid.”
Once I read that, it made me think about some of the choices I have made in my lifetime. First as a teenage boy when I started my first martial art class. A large part of doing so was for the “macho” factor. Another part was the “adventure” factor, doing something different, something to set me apart, something outside the drab everyday life. As a kid during the 80’s “ninja craze” a few of my buddies and I used to run amok in the neighborhood in black gi w/tabi searching for “adventure” (lucky we never got in trouble). Later in life I rock climbed, skydived, served in the military and eventually wound up in law enforcement. I would be lying to myself if I said that I made those decisions entirely to “serve my country” or “to help others”. Large portions of those decisions was that each of them wasn’t the “same old, same old”. They fulfilled some sort of masculine need that is tough to nail down. I think a large part of it has to do with our societies lack of “rite of passage” for boys into men.
In many primitive/tribal groups there are initiation ceremonies where boys go through some sort of rite-of-passage into manhood like hunts, vision quests, various risk taking events, etc. and they are then secure in their minds that they are deserving of being called a “man”. In our society such things seem to be more and more frowned upon as “sexist”, divisive and outright weird.
So what to we provide to our boys in our society? Not all that much. They find their “manhood” through various things like sports, gangs, fighting (bully/tough guy attitudes), military service, sex, careers, cars, emulating “gangstas”, parroting singers and celebs, rock climbing, skydiving, x-sports, skateboarding, surfing, martial arts…again, not that SOME of those routes are bad if they make you secure in your own skin and you are also doing right by others and for society. Many are also “active” means…you put yourself out there and experience life and learn from those experiences. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you get hurt, but if approached in the right mindset, you can learn something about yourself. But its all very haphazard and if not supervised you wind up with guys jumping off of hotel roofs into swimming pools, car surfing and criminality all in the name of “acting tough”.
Thinking about some of the young men (and older men) I have had to deal with in my career, it leads me to wonder how many of them had a “father figure” that taught them what it means to “be a man” in our society? Lots of gangsters seem to be doing what they do more as a way of “earning respect” and feeling part of a “brotherhood” than it is about making money. Perhaps this isn’t a “new thing” and is just part of moving from tribal to “civilized” society, but it makes me wonder what other types of alternatives there are out there for our young men. Compulsory military service? Compulsory public service?