Element of Ritual: Trial and Reward

Although they are sometimes enjoyable, ritual experiences are much more than just smooth pathways for easy amusement. Rituals don’t promise successful transformation to everyone who applies. They are social filters, designed to weed out the unworthy, excluding them from social roles for which they are not suited. The most effective rituals test the people who enter them, and provide rewards only to the deserving.

Business culture presumes that people will seek the easiest path available to them, regarding consumers as creatures of convenience motivated by low prices and the lack of barriers to purchase. A ritual approach takes a different view of human nature, seeing that, rather than shrinking from pain and loss, people often seek out challenging experiences because they yearn for opportunities to be tested, and to prove their worthiness.

Employees become disengaged when their work no longer requires any struggle. Consumers become indifferent to products and services that are purchased and used too easily. As we work and as we shop, we yearn for something to believe in, something worthy of sacrifice. From a ritually-informed perspective, a focus on price and convenience among consumers is a sign of impoverished marketing and a lack of brand differentiation.

The desire for experiences of significant sacrifice should not be interpreted as an excuse for abuse, in the workplace or in the marketplace. What distinguishes ritual trials from mundane suffering is that the suffering in ritual is never random. Ritual suffering is experienced as a test rather than as trauma because it is placed within a system of recognized cultural meaning.

What’s more, those who sacrifice within a ritual context never come out empty handed. Those who prove themselves worthy by passing these trials are granted rewards. The boons of ritual come in many forms. Sometimes, they are practical, such as the tools of the work that ritual initiates are expected to perform once their rites of passage are complete. At other times, ritual rewards are merely symbolic objects that represent the deeper, intangible insights and transformations that ritual participants have achieved.

trial and reward