Luther Standing Bear in the book Land of the Spotted Eagle offers us much wisdom in how we should see ourselves in out relationship to the natural world. In talking to children the Lakota would place a hand on the ground and explain – We sit in the lap of our mother. From her, we and all other things come. So we sit on the ground and become conscious of life about us in its multitude of forms.
Something else the Lakota has made observation on is the behavour of (many) white boys. Observations that seem to be particularly relevant today in many boys in our towns and cities.
I have often noticed white boys gathering in a city street, jostling or pushing each other in a foolish manner . . . their natural facilities neither seeing, hearing not feeling the varied life that surrounds them. There is about them no awareness . . . and it is this dullness that gives ugly mannerisms full play.
The Lakota also said that lack of respect for growing things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. Does this not ring a bell in modern city living for many teenage boys, white or otherwise?
Many young men in deep and broad cities have become detached from nature, giving their allegiance almost exclusively in many cases to supporting a chosen football club as though that alone is all that is of importance in their lives. If they are confined to living in a twenty-story apartment block should any of this surprise us!
Something else too. A teenage boy needs, at some stage, to engage in an initiation event that allows him to cross the line into manhood. Such an event must be of a significance nature for the community in which he lives to acknowledge that the boy has now indeed become a man. Being accepted into the adult world in this fashion gives the new man pride in himself and gives him a firm stake in the community which has now accepted him in this fashion. Going into the bush armed with only a spear to kill a lion is an unbelievably brave thing to do. Returning to the village such a boy will be greeted by the adults with admiration and without hesitation be accepted into their ranks. Never again will he feel compelled to prove that he is a man because all will know it to be true.
And this brings us back to teenagers living in cramped conditions in vast housing estates or high-rise apartment blocks. How are they to prove at some stage in their lives that they too have passed into adulthood in a way that garners wide social acceptance in their community?
Joyriding and theft and vandalism doesn’t quite do it. These activities don’t carry the broad social approval that the young individual craves. Sportsmen, whether football players or golf or tennis players who display particularly fine skills and yes, bravery, can achieve acceptance in this way. But not all of us can be good at sport. So something else is needed: something to allow certain young males to display grit and physical endurance. Society needs to facilitate such maturing boys to test themselves through hard physical endevour.
The term ‘transition year’ in secondary schools is particularly apt here. Part of this year should be set aside for particular male teenagers to test their metal against hard physical endurance in an activity that benefits their community. Of equal importance the community should see what these teenagers are doing for their benefit so that the good work is widely recognized and the teenagers involved clearly identified for the work they are undertaking on behalf of the community. The nature of such work will vary depending on the particular needs of the community and so that would need to be discussed and agreed at the community level.
Many teenagers who feel that they have no stake in society would benefit by such programmes and perhaps, for the first time, feel to be embraced and valued by their communities for the good work undertaken by them. If that work were to include projects to benefit nature in their area then the wisdom of Luther Standing Bear would become apparent to these young men.
I believe that there needs to be discussions in communities on this.
My best regards to all.