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A Rite of Passage into Adulthood and Citizenship

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

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Written by Tristan Dineen

[Consider this…]We enter this world possessing only the raw humanity we are born with, with no idea as to our potential or the dignity within us. Nature provides a strong backbone to the human character, both individual and collective, but it cannot alone lead us to fulfillment. In a sense we are born with our spirits in a state of slumber and it is only through realization and fulfillment that we can fully awaken our inner strength. Thus, children and adults who have not realized their purpose (i.e. what they do best in life, what allows them to contribute most effectively to society, and what gives them meaning) are all too vulnerable to alienation and immaturity. Without the training required to allow for the refined expression and the dignified perfection of our human abilities we cannot develop our potential and stand at the mercy of impulsiveness and anarchy. As Plato emphasizes the absolute necessity of proper education and dignified role-models from an early age when he says that “Children cannot distinguish between what is allegory and what isn’t, and opinions formed at that age are usually difficult to eradicate or change; we should therefore surely regard it as of the utmost importance that the first stories they hear shall aim at encouraging the highest excellence of character (The Republic pp 70).” Basically, as we all know from personal experience, children largely cannot distinguish between the literal and the figurative so therefore from an early age it is important that they are exposed to good examples and role-models.

Education brings order to the hearts and minds of human beings, allowing us to make coherent sense of the world and to improve the society that we construct, allowing for the advancement and strengthening of its laws and institutions. It is education that permits us to develop, to achieve our potential and realize our dignity. Without training our minds are weak, unable to effectively engage in self-control, and naked before the darkness of ignorance (not to mention unprepared for the challenges ahead in life). This is why education is of such critical importance and why an effective and noble government shall do whatever is necessary to ensure a strong education system to defend and uphold the dignity and potential of the human species – it is the instrument of our awakening as individuals and as a society. A society is only as good as its citizens. Maturity can only come after a period of testing, learning, realization and actualization for the young human being and therefore I propose the following.

Without exception, no one can be considered an adult who does not pass through a two to three year period of public service between the ages of 18-20 or 21 (some types of public service might require a longer period of service than others given their complexity). It is delusional, as I have previously stated, to consider someone an adult simply because they have reached a specific age – this often means little; for biological development in human beings does not always coincide with mental and spiritual maturity and therefore it is foolish to consider someone an adult simply because they are biologically fully grown. This two year rite of passage will shatter this liberal notion that youths should be seen as responsible citizens following their eighteenth or twenty-first birthdays depending on the jurisdiction in question. What is more, the period of service to the greater human community must take the youth away from the care of their parents in order to ensure that family ties and the sense security offered by having parents close at hand does not interfere with their service and development as individuals and as citizens. This period of service will not be easy and indeed it cannot be easy for in order to reach maturity the individual must undergo trial and hardship while developing practical problem-solving skills beyond the enclosed environment of the education system. They must learn to apply their skills, contribute effectively and work together in a communal environment and thus come to understand fully what it means to be a citizen. Nor can the disabled be exempt from this period of testing and service: it is true that they may be limited in how they can contribute, but no one is without merit and every individual contributes something of importance to the greater whole of civilization regardless of their limitations.

Citizens do not simply emerge from thin air and even a strong education is not enough: they must put their education to the test and apply themselves beyond the classroom if they are to realize their purpose and fulfill their potential in life – they must be challenged if they are to fully awaken as human beings. Fundamentally, people have to know what it means to serve the public good: it is the only way to become a real citizen. Simply getting a job and paying taxes is not enough to build proper civic virtue: often the individual will end up being incredibly self-serving and will fight and complain bitterly against having to make any contributions (financial contributions in particular) to society whatsoever. Public service has to be active and not passive; people have to feel like they are part of a community and not islands unto themselves. Solidarity is what we need most all now. A society that is united in its diversity and where its people live their lives to the fullest as human beings can only be built upon a strong foundation of togetherness, acceptance, meaning, enlightenment, and purpose. As social beings we can only find our freedom together by growing as individuals and as a community; hence the reason for society and for education.

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