Thursday, August 23, 2007

Personal Growth: Thoughts on Maturity

Long talk on maturity last night in the wee hours. As a certifiable age-snob with a preference for those older than me, maturity as a concept, is something I think I've got a pretty good hold on, but let's see how close I could come to Websters - I'm guess it uses the term "age-appropriate" in the definition. Websters says:

1 : the quality or state of being mature; especially : full development
2 : termination of the period that an obligation has to run

1 : based on slow careful consideration
2 a (1) : having completed natural growth and development : RIPE
(2) : having undergone maturation
b : having attained a final or desired state
c : having achieved a low but stable growth rate
d : of, relating to, or being an older adult : ELDERLY
3 a : of or relating to a condition of full development
b : characteristic of or suitable to a mature individual

Wow, this was not what I expected. Maturity as a concept seems to be more about having reached "full development" but I wonder how this relates to full potential. The definition "having attained a final or desired state" might suggest that meeting one's full potential would be the end of maturing, but I wonder, "desired by whom?" There are people who do not desire any further growth, probably think they are mature and in whom I see a lot more potential. In last nights conversation about maturity, my friend queried, "Is there a point in one's years when a person reaches a level of maturity and stays there?" Well, per Webster, we may be erroneous in thinking of levels of maturity - fruit and wine are either mature/ripe/ready or not. I don't even ask if people are that way, because as a feminist/relativist thinker, of course I consider there to be a scale and I think the issue is just one of semantics.

Personal learning and growth is one of my core values, so I'm constantly seeking the way to growth. I almost wrote "better myself" but I realize that doesn't really express it and self-betterment also carries with it a tinge of the idea that I might possibly know what is better for myself. There is also an idea with self-betterment that things may also be better, cleaner, prettier or somehow more positive, whereas with growth, I think sometimes things get messier, at least at first. For example, when I started learning to communicate my feelings of anger, I often overshot my goal, said it wrong or whatnot, so my life actually got messier for a time. In the end, I do think we are "better" for having grown, but I guess part of the learning I've accomplished in my growth has been that I'm perfect right now and doing the best I can with what I have available. Given that, I can't possibly be better.

Okay, enough psychobabble. Is maturing a process that ends? My opinion: for some people, yes - for some, no. Alcoholics (and likely other addicts), for example, get stunted in their emotional growth and often retain the maturity of a teenager. Psychologists say that they can resume their growth when they attain sobriety, but I have not always seen that they do - I think the possibility is there, but it requires a personal dedication. I don't think that is exclusive to addicts, either - I think beyond our growing years, there may be a tendency to stagnate if we aren't feeding ourselves the right mental/emotional/spiritual food for growth. That food is what keeps us growing/changing/maturing. What is it? Probably varies for everyone - for me, it includes an exploration of the dao, personal journey into spiritual realms, working with a therapist and lots of exposure to and exploration of the meaning of words.

To continue along that track, I also think that kids and teenagers need a lot of exposure while they are in their growing years to these foods, whatever they may be for them - since we can't possibly know, it would behoove us to expose them to LOTS of different models. This is the same way I feel about their physical health - if kids don't eat dirt and get exposed to germs, they never develop a proper immune system; if they (and we) don't eat lots of different foods, we never develop a wide palate and/or get the nutrition we need! It's really one and the same desire to have a wide array of experience - even if we then choose to walk a more narrow road, at least it was choice and not something that was foisted upon us due to the limits of our exposure.

For my part, as someone who has used and accepted the label "mature" since I was about 11, I now rescind that label based on Websters definition. I hope the day I wake up mature is my last on this planet - I'd love to look on this earth with mature eyes for just a day before ascending to nirvana.

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