Rituals have received their share of bad press in recent years. Every now and then one pushes the line between difficultly and torture. The general public becomes aghast, and as a whole shakes their head at the whole thing. Meanwhile, people who’ve gone through it are often at a loss for words when trying to really describe just what it is that’s so important about it in the first place.
The main reason for this is that it’s a bit like trying to describe why driving for the first time is important. It takes a lot of distance and introspection to really grasp the importance it has as an initiation ritual into adulthood. One’s first drink at a bar has a similar feeling attached to it. The vast majority of the time, anyone getting their first legal drink has had one before. Usually quite a bit, in fact. But it’s still an important and significant event in anyone’s life.
Looking at those examples shows what one should learn from their own pledge ritual. It’s not the events which take place, it’s the nature of groups. Almost every society on earth used to have rituals of manhood. Until one took an initiation ritual, a boy would never be seen as anything else. The day he was able to prove himself as a man, he became one. The rituals served to seize manhood, and demonstrate to the adult community that they had a new member who had earned respect.
Somewhere down the line, this was lost within most of western culture. There’s the occasional vestigial remnant, such as the driver’s licence and entry into drinking age. However, these are fairly pitiful shadows of a true initiation ritual. The prize won so easily has little end value.
And this is where the difficulties people have with pledge rituals can be found. The general public has only ever had these vanity trophies. The formal initiations they’ve had have been weak and mewing things, with no real bite to them. When one does have difficulty, it’s usually in such a diffuse way that it’s really not a ritual at all. The true coming of age ceremony is largely absent for most people.
It’s different for someone interested in joining a fraternity. Universities are a place of learning, and fraternities are a part of that. The people in them, and the school at large, know the truth about the situation. And that truth is that hardship builds both significance and character.
A pledge faces actual challenge with their ritual. And, whether social or physical, there’s something else. To be frank, there is an element of pain and suffering involved. In a sense, one has to suffer and die in order to be reborn. This is what the ancient rituals of all humanity had in common. This is also what fraternities understand.
The biggest lesson to learn from the ritual is the importance of the ritual itself. It involves one’s peers recognizing them as an adult able to suffer pain. It involves a person realizing inner strength they might have been unaware of. But even above those important aspects, there’s one huge lesson. That lesson is that suffering isn’t always something to be avoided. A man knows that sometimes suffering is inevitable to achieve the most valuable goals in life. And that’s what a proper ritual teaches.