The road to maturity
What is maturity? How do we measure it? How can we become mature? What prevents maturity? These are the kind of questions we need to keep asking ourselves on the road to maturity. As we mature, the answers will keep changing. Maturity is a lifetime agenda.
Maturity is a mystery. Some people mature at an early age effortlessly. We don’t know why. Some never mature even unto old age or mature only in certain areas of life.
We first need to be able to distinguish between mature and immature behavior. Unless we have the skill to recognize immature behavior, we will not know what to change. But that itself is a challenge. The one question we need to ask ourselves is: have I responded in a mature manner in this situation? The mind may say yes or it may say no. It may say yes even if our responses have not been mature. This is the real danger we face. To overcome this danger, we need to take another mature person’s perspective on the matter. But if you feel you have responded maturely, why will you do that? On important issues, it is wiser to take a second opinion.
It is useful to have a checklist of mature behaviors as an aid. If we jot down the times we were immature, that would be even better. But how do we know what is mature behavior? We can have one broad guideline based on consequences. Mature behavior is the behavior that produces the most favorable consequences for all concerned in a given situation. Even better would be if the response led to mutual growth.
If you tell a student who has failed an examination that he won’t make it in life if he keeps failing, the consequences it will produce are anger, dejection, and lower self-esteem. So that is obviously not a mature response.
Maturity requires experience and awareness, which have to come into play at the right time when we are dealing with a situation. Even if it comes after the event we are on the road to maturity. If it never comes, we need to invest more in contemplation and draw it out.
The road to maturity lies in contemplation, in reexamining our everyday responses and substituting them with better responses in our imagination. This stored memory, if it is strong enough, will come to our help in future real-life situations. Every time we question ourselves whether we responded maturely we are training the mind to think. We also need to observe the behavior of mature people. If we live amidst immature people, we will become like them. Maturity requires conscious application of mind. If we leave it to the unconscious mind, we may grow in immaturity without realizing it. When we encounter immature people, we must guard against being drawn into immaturity. Unless one person responds maturely both will perpetuate immaturity.
There are two kinds of maturity. One, when we are interacting with other people. The other is internal, where there are no others, where we have to respond to our own thoughts and feelings. An example is failure. How maturely are we responding to our failures?
In an organization, we cannot assume that all people with the same designation will have the same level of maturity. Designations and positions have nothing to do with maturity. Unfortunately, it is believed that what one person can do, another with the same designation can also do. This leads to unfortunate consequences.
Life extracts a price for immature behavior. Hurting the ego of a powerful person can result in the loss of a job or promotion or increments. In a high-powered meeting of big egos, one immature remark can seal our fate. It will be remembered for eternity. Immaturity is also a major cause of strained relationships.
No one likes to be called immature. Everyone thinks they are mature. This very assumption prevents better mature responses from emerging. We need to come from the space that maturity is a continuous lifelong process. Maturity does not have a destination. Could I have responded even better than I did? has to be a constant question, however mature you think you are.
Maturity does not require one to be educated or well-read, though it may help to some extent. Maturity is acquired from the world around us. It is largely imbibed through experiences. But we need to develop it consciously. It cannot be learned in a seminar. It is self-taught by observation and contemplation and requires considerable exposure to life. Intelligence alone is not sufficient to become mature either. You may be a Ph.D. or head of a big research organization, yet can be very immature in relationships. No school or university can impart maturity. Maturity is won only in the school of life.
The skills of a mature person come to the test when he is faced with a totally new situation without any precedent to guide him. This is where he has to rely on his creativity and intuition to steer him. His maturity will find a way out. It will think differently and come up with a radically new solution.
Many a time we wish we had not said or done certain things. That is the mature mind talking to us. We must welcome it. It is a good sign. During such times we normally go into regret mode and have sleepless nights. These must be considered as growth pains when we move into maturity. We cannot always mature painlessly. The road to maturity is not paved with roses. Some lessons are learned the hard way. We don’t forget such lessons.
We need maximum maturity in relationships, as they are fragile. One immature remark can destroy a long-standing relationship. We will have no issues with mature people but immature people have to be handled with care. Immature people have a tendency to see hidden negative meanings in even harmless statements. Such people are the most difficult to deal with.
Maturity requires a shift in perspective. The way a mature person views a situation is not the same as that of an immature person. They come from different spaces. An immature person may see suggestions as blame or faultfinding. They are unable to distinguish between the two. They may assign ulterior motives when they are praised or appreciated. They may pass totally irrelevant or embarrassing comments when a serious matter is being discussed. They may pass judgment quickly based on half-baked information, without knowing all the facts.
In the grip of emotion, even the most mature person will act immaturely. Unless we have a certain amount of emotional control, we cannot expect mature behavior. When strong emotions well up inside we need to clamp up until they subside. Emotions cloud judgment and influence the words we speak. Negative emotions are the worst enemies of maturity. For example, when envy engulfs us we make all sorts of unworthy comments about the one we are envious of. With any strong emotion, positive or negative, we lose objectivity.
Pulling a long face or sulking is considered normal behavior under certain circumstances. But if it is prolonged and begins to test everyone’s patience the child in us has not grown up. We have to outgrow the tantrum-throwing, sulking, grabbing, I don’t want to eat, I don’t want talk to anyone, I don’t want to go anywhere, child in us. The moment we are able to distinguish between childish and adult behavior we are well on our way to maturity.
To accelerate maturity we have to take it up as a project. Every day there are any number of opportunities to practice maturity since we are interacting with people all the time. We have to create the intention before every encounter telling ourselves, ‘I am going to respond maturely now’, so as to pre-condition the mind. But we also need to proactively look for opportunities to enhance our maturity, and not leave it to opportunities presented by life alone. Anyone who takes on a time-bound, resource-constrained project involving people will grow in maturity at a faster pace. Those who deal with a large number of people from different strata of society coming from different backgrounds and regions will quicken their maturity.
We can be mature in one area of life and be totally immature in other areas. For holistic growth, we need to work on all areas. We need financial maturity, maturity in relationships, in dealing with our own emotions, in the spiritual dimension, in health matters, in the workplace, with the family, in dealing with big and small egos, during crises management, in decision-making.
Unless we set an example of mature behavior within the family our children will not pick up such behavior.
A mature person is not infallible or perfect. He will make mistakes and even act immature at times. So, we should not be surprised when people we look up to and admire fall in our eyes sometimes. They are also learning and maturing. It would be unfair to pass judgment on them during such times. Instead, we need to realize that they are as vulnerable and fallible as anyone else and need empathy. Maturity does not mean being a superman.