Rites of Passage. They are as American, it would seem, as baseball and apple pie. At least, from the cries of those who tout them as absolutely necessary to create a bond between team members, you’d think so, anyway. The rest of us….well, we simply call it for what it is…..Hazing.
No, I wasn’t always the smallest kid on the playground, alternating between receiving my daily beatings at the hands of bullies and crying in the corner. Nor was I always the bully, doling out and orchestrating the others doing the hazing. Nope, I was in the middle. Both a giver and a receiver be….perhaps that was my mantra.
Yes, I’ll admit it. I’ve passively sat back and watched others being hazed. You know, I’ll take it a step further. I’ve actively participated in the hazing, buying into the rationale that this was somehow acceptable, perhaps even good. We were “helping” others feel bonded. We were “teaching.” We were “toughening up” those being hazed.
You see, I’ve frequently found myself in environments in which hazing WAS the norm, and I did view it as a rite of passage, an acculturation into the environment and into “the club.” Hell, I grew up in the rough and tumble world of male team sports. I attended an all-male high school. In college, I pledged a fraternity (and later held the role of training new pledges). I enlisted in the Army and enjoyed the machismo of being an infantry scout. Later, I served in the Navy’s aviation community, where aircrew is about as close to celebrity as you come (outside of being with the SEAL teams, that is). And each step of the way, I was subjected to hazing…and later participated in hazing the “newbies.”
The past week’s media reports of hazing, bigotry, and the overall leadership culture of the Miami Dolphins is extremely troubling.
Wait, you say….You’ve DONE this same thing. You’ve BEEN in these environments, and you both participated and allowed it to happen!! What a hypocrite!
I can’t argue those points. Well, perhaps I would argue the last statement…A hypocrite, I’m not. But was I fully accepting of the hazing cultures in which I lived? For a while, I was….but that changed, and it changed WHILE I lived them.
You see, as I matured, I began questioning the real purpose behind the “beatings” and “tacking on” promotional ceremonies in the military, the activities done “all in fun” in the fraternity world, and even the hellacious “rites of passage” that many scholars endure as they defend their thesis or dissertation. Prompted likely from media reports of hazing abuses and disasters, I really began examining my own participation and acceptance of hazing in all forms. Quite frankly, my thinking evolved….radically so.
“Are there cases where hazing is okay?”
Nope, I’d say absolutely not. No grey areas. No line to cross. It’s simply not acceptable. You see, hazing, in my mind, has no purpose whatsoever. If you, as a culture or an individual organization, need to resort to hazing in order to build a team dynamic or to enhance production, there’s a much deeper leadership issue that ought to be resolved. If trust can only be developed by putting individuals through an arbitrary and artificial experiences, i.e., no relevance to actual job or individual requirements, it’s not really trust you’re trying to develop, but rather a sadistic version of fear and intimidation.
In any case, whole books have been written (and could still be written) about this topic…and unfortunately, there are come cultures and many individuals who would still “poo poo” efforts to curb hazing. Whether doing away with rookie hazing in sports, the famed Chief Petty Officer initiation in the Navy, or pointless crucibles in academia, there are those vocal resistors who describe themselves a “old school,” as if being “old school” is a badge of honor.