Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, February 19, 2006

about maturity

What makes a person mature?

I remember as a kid I would have issues with my mother from time to time. She would be reacting to my bad behaviour and she would say, “I’ll treat you like an adult when you start acting like one.” To which I would pose the bogus challenge, “how am I supposed to act like an adult if you don’t treat me like one?”. Bogus because a person doesn’t need to be treated any particular way to act like an adult. A person can be all alone on a deserted island and still act like an adult - or a child.

So what makes an adult? Of course, it’s not any one thing and you can’t reduce a complex notion like this to a one-size-fits-all answer. But if you did reduce the concept, you would get “self control” at the top of the main things that make up an adult. Not all adults have this of course and that’s why I am using the word “mature”.

I think self control is a matter of considered choice. We are faced with a situation to which there are several answers. We consider the consequences of each behaviour and then we choose the one that we want. Small children who don’t know about the concept of self control don’t even consider the consequences. They know immediately what they want and that’s the one they go for. For example, take the situation where someone offers you a piece of cake. As a small child, assuming you like cake, you will immediately say “yes I want cake”. There are no consequences to a small child. However as you get older, you learn that there are consequences to behaviour. If you eat that cake now, you may have the satisfaction of the taste, you may satisfy a hunger pang, but you also know there are better food choices to make or, if you aren’t hungry, that these are empty calories.

Even a dog understands that choices can be made and that there are consequences. As I watch my puppy learn and mature, I see him hesitate before deciding to chase that bit of paper across the street. Sometimes he chooses not to chase it and he is rewarded. Sometimes he decides that he will chase it and he is corrected. “Control” is not necessarily about prohibiting behaviour - it can mean channelling it or working with it, like you do with a dog’s natural instincts to chase of sniff.

As we get even more mature, we begin to differentiate between long term and short term consequences to our behaviour. Something may satisfy you in the short term with no apparent negative consequences but you can look to the long term and see that there could be negative consequences down the road. (This concept is especially applicable to the subject of weight-gain.)

Finally, we start to understand how our behaviour affects other people (which in turn ultimately affects us). If we get angry at someone for something they did, we have to choose what to do about it. Do we express our anger in the hope that what they did to us will not happen again? How has that worked in the past? Do we give a measured response, hoping that the lesson will be learned but without all the rancour?

All of this can be boiled down into how much you control your own self. And we can all control ourselves - sometimes we just choose not to. I think the extent to which you willingly control your behaviour is a sign of how mature you are.


Blogger bbrug said...

Wait--there are *consequences* to eating cake?!?

Oh dear.

- - -

But cake aside, I know what you mean. I realized at some point in or around my college years that I would always be responsible for the things I did. And that when I did the wrong thing, I would have to live with it for the rest of my life, wincing every time it came to mind. Fortunately, I didn't do anything too too horrible before I figured that out. But while it takes me two hours to come up with a list of ten positive things, I have no trouble at all thinking of negative ones, and the memories of things I've done that I shouldn't have are probably the clearest, sharpest memories I have.

Every now and then I encounter someone who hasn't yet grasped this, and it's alarming. Usually they're teenagers, and I tell myself they'll probably figure it out. But occasionally they're adults, people who should be more mature by now, and then it's very sad. And dangerous. Those are the kind of people I cross the street to avoid.

4:01 p.m., February 20, 2006  
Blogger JuliaR said...

Bbrug, you’re right. It IS dangerous when people don’t understand or care if there are consequences. Sometimes it amounts to mental illness but other times, it’s just a frozen-in-childhood sense of entitlement gone wrong. I have an interesting book called ‘Reinventing your life” and one of the chapters deals with the entitlement ‘lifetrap’ but the authors say, ‘if you have this particular life trap, you‘re probably not reading this book!’ Too true.

12:59 p.m., February 22, 2006  

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