What is maturity, anyway?

October 2, 2007

My 19-year old son tells me that I am immature. At his age, my eldest daughter – now 38 – said the same thing. That was nineteen years ago. I have had nineteen years to mature and now appear to have passed up the opportunity. So either my kids misunderstand me or I am an incorrigibly immature 63-year old.

Let’s look at the first option: misunderstanding. I tend to be somewhat playful by nature – you know, fooling around and more than occasionally being childish. Is that really a sign of immaturity? Perhaps, but didn’t Jesus tell us that unless we come to him as children….? Unfortunately, this does not readily translate into ‘unless we come to him as immature…’. So nice try! ‘Immature’ cannot readily be upgraded to ‘child-like’. OK, so on to the second option: simultaneously mature (63 years old) and immature. But what is immaturity anyway? The word has a teleological feel to it that measures one’s distance from some desired end-state that we all strive for called maturity. The question immediately comes to mind: desired and striven for by whom? By me? By my friends? By society? Maturity is clearly a social construct. You may be viewed as irretrievably mature in one culture – ie, as good as dead – and, with exactly the same symptoms of mortal decay, thought to be fast regressing towards your second childhood in another. Same data, different construals.

One construal that would salvage some of my self-respect would have immaturity as a pre-condition for creativity, the positive spin that is put on the phenomenon of non-predictability. Mature people go for the obvious, socially agreed upon and predictable behavioural and cognitive strategies. Immature people, by contrast, in their naivety, go for the non-obvious ones. Most of the time they either look ridiculous or misguided and will deliver little more than comic relief – my kids clearly have me in that category. But occasionally, some will stumble across useful new insights. To be sure, the hit rate is low; this comes with the territory.

Conclusion? Society needs immature people and I proudly volunteer my services.

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