There is an epidemic sweeping the landscape of our modern day culture and our evolving social fabric.

The damaging effects of these tectonic shifts on our collective future cannot be understated. Our very existence, driven by our capacity to lead and to steadfastly create solutions to problems – big and small – is at stake. The epidemic is showing up in our young people, and the effects are already showing staggering implications.

In short, it seems to me, as I survey the world around me (and the people in it), that life in the digitized world has become so very measured and managed that dominant social norms are creating a near risk-free – thus lesson-less – environment. In plain English, people aren’t fully living life and learning from vast, sometimes dangerous experiences – specifically, experiences that facilitate powerful and positive shifts in the way we operate in our lives and in our approach problem solving.

In many cultures, particularly cultures that have strong links to long-standing tribal traditions, young men and young women took their place in their respective tribe as they grew older by engaging in tribal sponsored rituals that were often dangerous and full of deep experiential lessons. These lessons were seen as giving birth to the skills that would allow young people to eventually lead their families and the tribe forward as capable leaders.

Ironically, in the overdone attempt to make everything we do (and say) today as sanitary and safe as possible, society has begun to wring out the life lessons that only experience fraught with elements of risk and danger (perceived or otherwise) can provide. In the process, I believe many in our society are losing the ability to effectively navigate uncertainty, risk, danger, and conflict.

I’m willing to bet that these tribal sponsored experiences – rituals, crucibles, and trials – create or activate dormant parts of the brain that can be utilized to deal powerfully with circumstances that are fought with risk. Tangible leadership skills (on a personal and collective level), mental toughness, emotional resilience, a fighting spirit, decisiveness, and unyielding determination are the lessons and skills that have been cast aside for the sake of an ever increasing effort to ensure no one is hurt – physically or emotionally. How absurd is that? Haven’t we gone too far in this direction? Are we inadvertently setting up others to flounder through life without the skills to manage difficulty, conflict, and risk? What a terrible thing to do. I can’t imagine trying to move through life without the essential skills that are taken from the traditions of the tribes of history.

It’s become glaringly obvious that many of us did not have the opportunity to share fully in the lessons of our respective tribes as we grew older. Sports no longer instills these lessons – over commercialization and a “get what I can for myself” attitude have stained (perhaps ruined) team sports and the most valuable lessons once gleaned from these activities. So what do we do now?

Want more anecdotal proof? Look no further than the monumental growth in adventure races and crucible style events to uncover an uncomfortable truth – people now seek to fill the “tribal ritual-sized hole” in their understanding of themselves and their capability to manage (and thrive in) life.

People actually pay others to run them through dangerous crucibles to capture some of what was lost (or was never provided). In doing so, these same people gain experience, life skills, confidence, decisiveness, and a host of other skills that propel them forward – past those cold and timid souls that have know neither victory nor defeat (or the risk associated with either outcome and the effort itself).

Young men, in particular, are at risk (in my opinion). The epidemic is spreading like a wild fire. It’s time we did something about it. Ask yourself…what have I missed in this context? What do my children need to flourish? How can I offer the lessons of the tribe? What must I do next to instill lessons that are quickly being lost?

Consider a Krav Maga program, an adventure race, or a change in how you live your life. Do something hard. Learn to manage yourself, manage risk, and be ready to capture the life lessons. Tap into your capability and your capacity to manage difficult and dangerous circumstances. You’ll be better for it.

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  1. Ernesto

    The best way to manage risk is to become comfortable with uncertainty.