Rites of Passage

Risk! Risk! Care no more for the opinions of others or for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth. - Katherine Mansfield, Journals

Having studied, lived with, observed, therapist-ized, raised from birth been one and now coaching, many hundreds of men during my awake years (mine started at age 45), it might not surprise anyone that I have come to several conclusions about men. First is that we are truly magnificent. In fact, we are equally as great a miracle as women, although we may not always smell as nice and perhaps we really don't multi-task quite as well.

We are, however, often an enigma to the opposite gender and almost always to ourselves. We are highly complex extensions of our genitalia and like it or not, that is one of those truths we must face. Frankly, living that enigma really is a great way to go through life but it is also so often misunderstood that it creates great social and emotional barriers to happiness. Yes, for us men testosterone is not only a way of life, it is the essence of life. It is what makes us go, create, perform, compete, achieve, defend, and sometimes make complete asses of ourselves. (That last in deference to the opinion of others.) It is at once the most creative and most destructive agent on the planet. We get to live with this paradox full time and few ever get the chance to examine it and hence potentially gain control of it. There are many areas that we can explore in an attempt to gain this control and we will look at many of them during the course of this newsletter, but the most critical is what I call the great missing link: Rights of Passage. 

Most sociologists refer to this phenomenon as RITES of Passage and that has been historically appropriate but I call it RIGHTS of Passage which I believe is more appropriate to our times. First coined and translated into English by Arnold van Gennep in 1906, Rites of passage has been the defining point of departure for the transition from boy to man since the beginning of the homo sapien era. Western culture and rapidly most other cultures around the world have given up the traditional spiritually based "rite" for the concept of instant gratification. This, of course, is a direct result of the unprecedented increase in the speed of human evolution which is communication based.

The need, however, for a passage or ritual to identify the transition is not culturally based, but soul based and is therefore still required, as a condition of our being, to enable men to identify themselves as adults, have society recognize that fact and assume the responsible nature of that title. Without it we carry adolescence further and further into adulthood which is reflected in behaviors that are seen by others as non-responsiblity for our own actions. It is called "extended adolescence."

What has become known for the first time in history in any culture as male mid-life crisis is actually only the soul's need to express its RIGHT to discover its own maturity...and it will rarely be denied this RIGHT even if the psyche must create a crisis to force it to happen. So, the "Right of Passage" is really a critical element in the evolution of the life of the modern male. The "crisis' is manifest in every action that a man takes and is evident as at least a partial motivation in all his choices. How each man handles this inevitable transition is a measure of the development of his character and the values by which he lives.

Contemporary literature, and in particular modern media, has chosen this inner conflict that all men experience to some degree as suitable for comedic commentary. The American male in particular, regardless of ethnic origin, is so often seen as incompetent and denigrated within the family structure that it has become a self-fulfilling role model. Watch almost any TV sitcom and one sees the male as either continually representing infantile intelligence and gross behavioral ineptitude, or capable of little other than vengeance and uncontrolled violence. That is simply not the case. The great majority of us are capable, effective and loving but empty at some level. That emptiness is the result of incomplete passage into manhood. That passage is the "truth" that is searched for throughout the mythologies of all cultures. 

In Transitions #1 we got to look at one corner of a very small part of one major factor in this puzzle; father absence. In successive issues we will look similarly at the many other factors that play a role in understanding gender realities. Rights of Transition will be the thread that ties them all together.

You are still reading this because some part of you has seen some part of a truth you would like to know more about. The poem at the opening reflects for me what I would like to request of you; it is no more than that which I ask of my coaching clients: "Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth."

© 2007, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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