D. is the oldest in the group. Since he is 21 he no longer has a dedicated mentor, but Rachael, the group facilitator, still has him participate in the activities while helping him transition to more of a leadership role. Rachael thought that D. would get the most out of the activity compared to the rest, who were all three or more years younger. D. called his group the “psych-out” tribe, where “psych” refers to psychology. His rite of passage involves no physical tests of strength, but demands demonstrations of emotional maturity instead. The ritual is open to people of all genders and ages, and it is a particularly forgiving process. If you don’t complete it the first time, you can keep going through it until you finally do. I thought this was a particularly realistic view of what adulthood is for most of us. Personally speaking, I know I earned each notch on the belt of adulthood over an extended period of time: when I applied and got into college; when I first moved to NYC and secured a job and an apartment; when I set up an entire life for myself in Buenos Aires knowing only the email address of a friend of a friend, etc.

The first quality that D. said was important to the tribe was being able to speak your mind—being an “outspoken advocate.” He also called this a type pf “bravery,” since it entails saying what you feel. He also listed responsibility, but interestingly enough, his definition of responsibility was quite different from B.’s. Whereas B. was more concerned about the responsibilities of keeping a household and doing well in school, D. saw responsibility as being able to admit mistakes (something more like accountability) and also being able to guide other people. Trust and trustworthiness were also important to him, as was respect, encouragement, and being able to take criticism.

Since D. started the exercise later than the others, he wasn’t able to devise tests for each quality he listed, but he did describe a trust-building activity akin to those commonly used in summer camps and company retreats. In his version, a leader would take the hand of a blindfolded person and take him down a path. The hitch is that the leader himself would be as unfamiliar with the path as the follower, but in order to be a trustworthy person, he must also trust himself.

This was a great way to begin a conversation with D. about his own potential role as a leader in the group—and perhaps later in life. I suggested that he exercise the same level of patience with himself as he does with others and that he trust himself even on unfamiliar ground.


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