Rites of Passage: THE KEY TO LIVING
By Ken Wylie
Future archaeologists, from whatever world they are from, will shed a tear on our bones. They will find that we had all of the pieces for creating a utopia, yet still we self-annihilated. Their tears will be shed for the scale of the waste and the obvious suffering that occurred.
The truth about the state of life on Earth is the fact that we are over-using fossil fuels and failing to shift to clean energy fast enough. We are asking citizens, and governments to reposition choices to help solve this Global crisis. This is what is required. However, rather than taking action wholeheartedly, humanity is embroiled in an argument over the reality of the situation, paralyzing needed action. Why are we arguing? What underpins the fixed positions people have? Why the resistance to change? The answer is simple, and the solution pain filled. Western society has a population holding fast to a stage of human development well below what is needed for change to gain traction.
Harvard Psychologist’s, Robert Keegan’s research illuminates a fact that 58% of American adults, psychologically inhabit an adolescent stage of development. He calls this stage the “Socialized mind”. Keegan found that these are people who are afraid to step out of group norms because their identity is based on what the group thinks and does. This cohort lives by an unconscious belief that they are the sum of their relationships (they are defined by who they know and what they do) and have difficulty seeing other points of view.
Keegan’s five stages of adult development.
1) Stage 1 – Impulsive mind (early childhood)
2) Stage 2 – Imperial mind (Adolescence, 6% adult population)
3) Stage 3 – Socialized mind (58% of the adult population)
4) Stage 4 – Self -Authoring mind (35% of the adult population)
5) Stage 5 – Self -Transforming mind (1% of the adult population)
While fascinating, (and it seems to explain a lot in our society) it begs the question; Why is the greatest percentage of our population only at “Stage 3 the Socialized mind”?
Western society does not ladder citizen development with a structured “Rite-of-Passage” series as a widespread cultural norm. A functional ‘Rite-of-Passage’ consciously identifies the behaviors of a stage of being human, leaves these behind and adopts another more evolved set. Western society, by all outward appearances, assumes that growing up physically, also means developing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But this is not the case. The process of maturation includes consciously retiring behaviours like selfishness and irresponsibility and elevating ourselves to the concern and care of others and the ability to claim accountability for our actions, especially if wrong.
Of course, there are parts of our society that asks transformational change of its members in various ways. Military initiates go through a Rite to become a fighter. Doctors go through a Rite in order to practice. That is to say, “Rites of Passage” exist in sub groups, but the process of exercising conscious healthy for the good-of-all transformations at different stages of an adults’ life are not common or ubiquitous. They need to be. The benefits of such an endeavour are broad ranging. They include a practice of change which bolsters the discipline of being an “initiate” throughout one’s life, which is a mindset of humility that supports learning and change.
Applying Keegan’s observations to the climate change problem we see that group norms, in western society, are focused on specific patterns of consumption of fossil fuel. This is what we have been doing and what many of us have identified with professionally. Now to step out of that norm is difficult indeed. Societal change requires individuals that are willing to think and act differently, people who can step outside of patterned behaviour of the peer group and enact a different course. Change always requires this. But here is the rub, to make this leap one must admit that one’s behaviour has been wrong and is in need of change. This is the stumbling block that requires maturity.
Many humans are reticent to admit error, so much so that rational arguments carry no credence in the minds of these individuals. Matthew Syed points this out in his book “Black Box Thinking.” In it he underscores the consistently entrenched attitudes of the prosecution (police and legal system) in wrongful convictions. When new and compelling evidence is brought forward in murder and rape cases that overturns convictions, (setting wrongly imprisoned individuals free) the prosecution typically finds it impossible to accept that they could have been wrong, even in the light inarguable new evidence. He writes, “The theory of cognitive dissonance is the only way to get a handle on the otherwise bewildering reaction of prosecutors, and police (and indeed the wider system) to exonerating DNA evidence. - “They just couldn’t see the new evidence for what it was.” Being wrong is painful. This pain is amplified by the fact that we live in a blame and punish society, so it is unsafe to admit error. But the point of, “Black Box Thinking” is that learning only occurs when we can embrace failure and learn from our mistakes. We need safe social settings and the courage to admit mistakes, in order to grow.
So why are we arguing about climate change? Many are completely unable to admit that the position they have held about fossil fuels has been wrong, even as temperatures climb, storms rage, glaciers recede and waters rise. This is a problem. Some men are so defiant that they have tuned their diesel trucks to burn inefficiently on purpose, black smoke belches out of their exhaust pipe and they call it, “Rollin coal” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZe7EPMTwSA
Admitting that a position we have held, or an action we have taken was wrong is hard because takes great maturity. But, taking responsibility for our past actions, no matter how wrong they have been, is how we grow up, which is the kind of change we need. It is this kind of maturity we can no longer afford to be without.
Think about what you see happening in our society. Ponder the level of maturity of the leadership in our western society. Ask yourself, honestly, what behaviours you could leave behind, and what could you adopt in their place. This way, together, we can change the game and be free to take the hard actions that humanity and the planet need. Climate change is a challenge we are faced with that is an invitation for us to finally grow as a species. We are not pitted against a foe half way around the globe. The problem needs us to change drastically, by embracing conscious stages of development. Will we have the courage to face the thing that scares us more than climate change? Will we have the courage to face, ourselves? We have everything we need to put all the pieces together, if we take action on our own growth. Time is of the essence.