Initiate this

2012-02-17 07:44

Georgina Guedes

Around this time of year, stories always start to emerge about initiations at schools. Someone, somewhere takes things a step too far, and someone gets hurt or humiliated in a way that goes beyond the ostensible “all in good fun” ethos of the practice.

But is it ever all in good fun? On some level, I believe it is. I was born with the curse or blessing of having that part of my brain – the one that finds humiliation of others amusing – missing. I have sat through office stork parties completely befuddled by the need that we feel to celebrate something significant by having the mother-to-be dunk for chocolate turds in a potty full of lemonade.

However, my less uptight friends tell me that everyone’s having a good time, so, feeling like Mr Spock from Star Trek, I try to integrate with this notion of fun, while feeling completely alienated by it all.

I feel the same about initiation. Every time a report emerges about this process going too far, which is prohibited in the Schools Act by those spoilsports in government in any event, I find myself baffled by the version of it that wasn’t too far. What was the point, anyway?

Any new Grade 8 who isn’t intimidated beyond all imagining anyway by having an entire school full of boys larger than him (or her) after having been the biggest fish in the pond, probably needs therapy rather than initiation. There’s no need to cut them down to size; they can work it out for themselves.

Even in its least problematic form – where no one’s getting bashed with cricket bats or being forced to simulate rape – it all just seems a bit pointless to me. I went through an initiation process at an all-girls school, and it seemed to me that both the then-standard sixes and the matrics were vaguely embarrassed by having to go through the process of thinking of and executing the humiliation of making a younger girl bark at a rosebush.

As I was reasoning out this column, I happened on a solution for the need to initiate or institutionalise the rite of passage (cough, bullying, ahem) into high school. Instead of letting boyish high spirits soar, how about having the matrics identify or initiate community projects – soup kitchens, community gardens or building projects – that the new grade 8s then have to do the grunt work on.

This satisfies all the purported benefits of clarifying rank, cementing respect and taking down a peg, with the added benefits of serving a community and taking a fraught situation that perpetually causes problems – especially in privileged schools – and turning it to the greater good.

Of course, it might not be fun of the highest order – like I said, that part of my brain is missing – but I think it’s an elegant solution for a situation causes no end of problems for a fairly scant return in pleasure or status for a limited few.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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  • Aquila - 2012-02-17 08:12

    I understand and fully agree with your points Georgina. However, these childish intiations seem to me to be very poor substitutes for the real Initiation - into adulthood - which we have dropped as a practise for thousands of years, now. We have a culture in which our most powerful leaders are little more than children, having never received a true rite of passage into responsible adulthood.

      Jason - 2012-02-21 08:54

      The fact of the matter is initiations play a vital role in developing you as a person. life is not easy and children today go through absolutely nothing to get them ready for the real world. initiations have left me black, blue and bloodied, some have left me red with embarrassment but all have taught me valuable lessons. I may not have realized it at the time. Initiations are a right of passage for young men, it helps them bond together against a common enemy (the matrics in my case) we very quickly worked out who were the nice matrics and who were the ones to avoid. The boys who complained and squealed and sulked and cried got it harder than the ones who just sucked it up and went with it. Its about earning your little bit of respect as a small fish in a very big pond. The bottom line is we breed pansies in this country today!

  • Grant - 2012-02-17 08:41

    I have no problem with initiation, as long as it is done in a supervised manner and doesn't get out of hand. Majority of people who went through initiation came out alright (if you look past the fact that it is basic brain washing, break a person down and build them up the way you want them, easy way to control a group of people)

  • Jason - 2012-02-17 09:09

    Any anthropologist will tell you that initiation continues in all societies in different forms. The removal to a secondary educational institute is the 'classically' stated example. The joke on a new employee in a workplace is another. All of these, as well as the initiation of school children are in fact necessary for healthy functioning of society and a key part of development of any person at various stages of their life if they are to become part of a greater society. In fact, initiation is ONLY evident in communal societies throughout history and absent from anarchist era's of civil society. Should all people stop driving because a small % drive recklessly or drunk. Should no one be allowed to buy knives because some people use them to commit crimes? By banning something in its entiriety you are removing the responsibility and accountability of its citizens. You are saying you have no responsibility to follow the rules of civil society and to teach your children and peers to do the same. You are therefore promoting mediocrity in morality and accountability.

      Gail - 2012-02-20 17:29

      Sadly Jason we now live in Human Rights Society where some people think they have more rights than others and few realise that having a right is also a responsibility. Children are not taught in school or in many homes that the right to eat assumes you will be responsible enough to contribute something to the pot. I have had some kids in Grade 9 tell me that if they stab someone their parents will go to jail. Another person thought that a copyright sign gives you the right to steal someone else intellectual property. Disingenuous? I remeber some of my initiation to this day since I went to boarding school proper in Grade 6. Some of our initiations were actually quite clever e.g. Eating a square meal using a fork only to eat spaghetti. Others were childish but then we were children - pushing a pepper cellar the length of a very long dining room with your nose. None of them have left me scarred in any way. Of course since the 60's so much freedom and rights have led to a deterioration in originality when it comes to those inflicting human rights and by and large boys will be boys so it is in these situations that things get out of hand. Staff are frequently not present and boys can be inventive and stupid at the same time. Women are more fiendish intellectually and use words to demean and those CAN eave lasting scars on impressionable minds. I also like the suggestion about community projects.

  • TheyTookMyNickLaZynEko - 2012-02-17 09:48

    what a lovely suggestion on taking advantage of the 'initiation' concept so that it benefits our communities! A friend of my mother lost her son due to him being initiated in stellenbosch. They got him drunk and abandoned him on a dark road for 'fun', then he ended up being killed by a truck. This brutish form of initiation being practiced is just disgusting.

  • Gail - 2012-02-17 12:02

    Initiation is never funny and in nearly all cases, there will be one little okey who will get the worst end of the stick. Even adults fall prey to the 'pack' syndrome, so you can bet that this happens in school. like fireworks, I believe that initiation should be done away with.

      Godfrey - 2012-02-19 05:09

      I agree. It is a primitive tribalism that has no place in the 21st century.

  • gerry.pelser - 2012-02-17 14:28

    Okay, so after admitting you are the odd-one-out at the parties where everyone but you is having fun, you then unilaterally decide its a good thing to stop something almost everyone else approves of. Thanks for that. Abuse, assault, murder, crminal negligence, all those things are already crimes. For every heartbreaking case of initiation gone wrong, are thousands of cases where everyone had a good laugh. You cannot criminalise - or ban - a "context". By wanting to eliminate a good-fun hazing, you want to take issue with WHERE the crime took place as opposed to the actual crime. Its like wanting to ban chillies because it makes your mouth burn, and to heck with the rest! I was severely bullied at school, there was a huge issue there. But for the 1st three weeksof standard 6,i went through a hazing and i had zero problems with it. Its fun and makes one feel as if you belong. I had to bring my matric lunch every day and shine his shoes and carry his case. In return, no one bullied me coz my matric was on them like white on rice. Hazing has its place. Rather deal with the issues as actual issues, not the format the issues arose in.

  • uwe.klopfer - 2012-02-17 14:40

    i believe that "initiation" as put out above it idiotic. The idea about initiation is meant to be to make you feel part of the new group, be it a new school, new work new mommy whatever. There are actually initiation stories that are a roaring success. But they used methods of making the new comers feel welcome and teaching them of how the group they are now joining works, what the rules are, what the ethos of the group is etc. And to make them not only part of the new group, but happy contributing members of the group. Humiliating others smaller or weaker than yourself in both size or social stating is typical of the problem of humanity today. Try to make yourself bigger not by growing and becoming better, but by trying to make others smaller than yourself. I hope someone that is in a position to actually apply what i've said here reads this.

  • SarelJBotha - 2012-02-19 10:08

    Your thoughts are typically from a western type outlook. Sadly those you preach to are much happier with painted faces, lots of pow-pow, drinking and most of all are willing to tolerate the odd botched spearcut to the tottie...oh and they love the money that goes with all this.

  • Blip - 2012-02-21 09:47

    Initiations are barbaric and TOTALLY unnecessary. It's nothing more than mass-bullying and the only reason people "support" it is that they themselves wait with glee for their turn to come to be the bully rather than the initiation victim. It's a sad, sick, sociopathic "tradition" based on sado-masochism.

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