Go to Therapeutic Storytelling

 

 

 

 

When We Get Our Story RITE We Get Our Future Right© Part II
By David G. Blumenkrantz 

 

 

Editor's Note from Michael Williams: David Blumenkrantz, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Youth and Community and the co-designer of the Rite of Passage Experience, continues to explore the importance of raising our young people on healthy stories that respect their inner creative and spiritual lives and help them bridge the divide between youth and adulthood.
Read Part I here .

 

Wrapped in a synthesis of ancient stories from antiquity, youth & community development through rites of passage can be the RITE story for modernity. When you come right down to it we have central “stories” in the form of theories that inform policies (another form of story) that result in programs, which are the manifestation of the theoretical story in action. All of these stories—theories, policies, programs—are “delivery systems for the teller’s agenda.” They are based on the teller’s worldview. Current perceptions or worldviews in contemporary public education may not always be aligned with all students’ central values or culture. We only have to reflect on Native American boarding schools during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to know how in America’s education policies the “story” was the “delivery system for the teller’s [government] agenda.”

 

            

Theories are stories informed by empirical evidence. We have hundreds of stories about what helps children grow up well and different stories about how they learn. Dr. Spock was one of the pioneers in story-telling for children’s development, and at one time his book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) was the best-selling book on the planet apart from the Bible. We all crave a story. And, if it is the definitive story about how to live, lose weight, increase our strength, improve our marriage, find our inner children, or any one of the tens of thousands of self-help storybooks, then we have found “our story.” We are each seeking a story that helps us understand an aspect of life and ways to integrate all the complexities of life in ways that give us meaning and make us happy. Yes, we look to stories for our happiness. Find the right story, like “better living through chemistry,” and we will find happiness.


Children, especially at the time of puberty and adolescence—coming of age—seek a story that they can relate to and live into and that unfolds as their emerging adulthood. The story shared in part one from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has been particularly impacting for adolescents and their parents.

This next story is told in gatherings, large and small to orient people to the power of stories and the inadequate stories we have been using to inform our present orientation to our children’s education and youth development.

Let me tell you a story.

Remembering the Story

A very long time ago there lived a tribe. One day a great peril fell upon the tribe, which placed them all in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. The people were afraid they might perish and went to the Chief.
 
"What shall we do?" they asked. 
 
"We should ask the wise old one," responded the Chief. 

And so they asked the wise old one.

"Wise one," the Chief began, "We are facing a great peril. Our whole tribe is in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. What are we to do?

The wise one thought for a moment and replied. "I heard that there used to be a place we would go at times like this but I can no longer remember where the place is. I do know that there also used to be a prayer that we would say and a song that we used to sing. The prayer and the song I do remember." The wise one led the people in the prayer and they all sang the song and the tribe was saved.

Years later, another event occurred which placed this same tribe in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. The people were afraid that they might all perish and went to the Chief. The Chief, in turn went to the great grandchild of the wise old one of long ago, who was now an elder in the tribe. 

"Our people face a great peril. We are in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. You are the great grandchild of the legendary wise old one and carry the wisdom of our ancestors. What shall we do?" 

The great grandchild thought for a long time and then said, "There used to be a place we would go at times like this but I can not remember where it is. And, I think there used to be a prayer, but I am sorry, for this I cannot seem to remember either. But, I know there was a song. This I remember."  And so the great grandchild of the legendary wise old one led the people in the song and the tribe was saved.

Years and years had passed. Generations came and went. Once again the tribe faced a great peril, which placed them in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. The people went to the Chief to ask what they should do. The Chief in turn went to the great, great, great grandchild of the legendary wise old one who was an elder of the tribe. 

"Our people face a great peril. We are in imminent danger and under threat of great harm. You are the descendent of the legendary wise old one.  What shall we do?" the Chief asked. 

The wise old elder thought for a great while, and then began to speak slowly, gazing off into the distance. "I heard that there used to be a special place we would go at times like this… 

But, I do not remember where it is any more… 

And, I recall that there was also a special prayer that the people used to say, but again I am sorry, for I do not remember… 

I do know for certain that there used to be a song that was sung at times like this.  But, I'm afraid it was very long ago, and I do not remember the song either." 

And, so, the elder told the story of the tradition and the tribe was saved.

Indeed, are we not, as a people throughout the land, facing great peril and imminent danger under threat of great harm? Even the most optimistic or naïve among us must acknowledge dark clouds on humanity’s horizon. We need to remember and tell the story of rites of passage – perhaps in this way the tribes around our country and around the world will be saved.

Amidst the growing problems of bringing up the next generation, communities are considering a myriad of methods for helping youth traverse an increasingly dangerous path to adulthood. More and more they have been revisiting the ancient story of rites of passage. Although they are uncertain of the place these events occurred, the songs that were sung, or the prayers that were said, they are attempting to recreate the story of rites of passage in the hopes of saving the tribe by remembering that something happened around the time of puberty.

These songs, prayers and places were the primal prevention strategies and settings that informed and were guided by the indigenous wisdom of our ancestors. They knew the importance of rites of passage for the welfare of the individual and community. Famed psychologist, Seymour Sarason, a co-founder of the field of community psychology and founding board member of the Center for Youth & Community, Inc. said that “rituals in general and rites of passage specifically may have been our first attempt at a community psychology.” Contemporary rites of passage are ancient wisdom dressed in the clothing of modernity. “And, so, the elder told the story of the tradition and the tribe was saved.”

© David G. Blumenkrantz, 2016

 

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About the Author

 

Dr. David G. Blumenkrantz is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Youth &  Community, Inc. in Glastonbury, CT. His book, “Coming of Age the RITE Way: Youth and Community Development through Rites of Passage” will be available from Oxford University Press in April, 2016. The Rite Way blog is an irregular relevant disruption for helping.


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