“If we don’t initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat” – African Proverb
From Rites of Passage
We tend to think in this society when a male reaches 18 or 21, graduates high school or college, has that first drink or sexual experience, drives a car or joins the army, or worse, robs or steals, rapes a woman or takes a daredevil risk, beats up a “sissy” or shoots someone, that he is now miraculously a man. These and related notions are some of the most pernicious yet commonplace in our society today. The repercussions of this ignorance could not be more far reaching. They are everywhere to behold.
We live in an age where suspended adolescence seems to be the norm for all too many men, most notably among men in positions of power.
Indigenous cultures knew better. For them there was no such thing as adolescence. You were either a child or an adult. To mark that threshold, to perform and accomplish that transformation, was a function of the village itself. It was a cultural obligation. Biology alone would not do it. Village elders, both men and women, accepted the responsibility their ancestors entrusted them with. The African proverb summarizes this neatly: “If we do not initiate the young they will burn down the village to feel the heat.”
But how can we even aspire to universal values of mature masculinity when we inhabit a world so varied by culture, race, class, religion, nationality, sexual preference, age, and more? I believe we can, as do Doctors Seymour, Smith, and Torres. The key of course is not to ignore difference or go around it, but to go through difference. Once we acknowledge and name our deep and significant differences we can begin to open our hearts to what unites us as men, not in spite of but because of those differences, what makes it possible to proudly and without exaggeration recognize ourselves as brothers. “Brothers from another mother,” as some put it.