Actions, people, and emotions are either good or bad. A single bad behavior demonstrated once indicates a person’s criminal nature forever. Bad people should be punished.
In the school of everyday life, choices and feelings present themselves. We decide how to respond and then experience the consequences and effects. Everyone makes mistakes and tests their boundaries, especially youth, and this is how we learn. People learn at their own pace.
Our culture says that people have a basic “good” or “bad” nature. Either a person is mostly “good” and they follow the rules most of the time or they are mostly “bad” and need to be punished: “Once a thief, always a thief.”
In our civilized culture, the youth (or adults) who test boundaries and question cultural practices are subjected to incredible punishments and social stigmas for even small indiscretions. Just because an 18-year-old stole a car to go joyriding doesn’t necessarily mean he is a bad person for life, but that’s how our culture and our institutions treat him. He is put in jail and marked forevermore with a “criminal record” which makes people more likely to view and treat him as untrustworthy and dangerous, for the rest of his life. These harsh cultural consequences for “breaking the rules” put people down and throw them off balance. And yet, this serves a purpose in our culture: a person with a downtrodden spirit is much more likely to be willing to tolerate a life of toil and mindless work.
In youth, our hormones and emotions are so high that we don’t see very far into the future – we think the world revolves around us. This is a natural part of human development, and in order to encourage youth to broaden their perspective for the good of the community, we need to help them release the emotional charge through culturally embedded challenges. Our ancestors developed rites of passage to address these needs.
The light and the dark reside in each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, and this reflects the duality and paradox of the world. We have night and day, winter and summer, and the tides. It is natural for people in general and young people in particular to wrestle with the “dark” aspect – to test their physical and cultural boundaries, bending and breaking the rules to question whether they really serve us. This natural inclination is basically beneficial to individuals because the challenge of it strengthens us. It also strengthens our collective culture by clarifying what our cultural practices are and why we choose to keep them, and also challenging us to make certain that the rules and practices we abide by really are in the best interests of everyone.
The natural inclination of youth toward playing with the dark side and breaking the rules is a stage in life to be experienced and then released, like the training wheels on a bicycle. In our culture, people are denied the opportunity to fully experience this phase of life and the result is that many people never move past it. Do we want to raise generations of people who still need training wheels even at physical maturity?