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I would explain to you how I came to this topic today, but I’m afraid it might hurt your brain. Suffice it to say that it combines the active discussion from the blog post on maiden/married names, and some things I was reading in John MacQuarrie’s tome, “Principles of Christian Theology.”

The topic, if not so far obvious, is maturity. Look it up in the dictionary and you will get very little help. It’s the quality of being ripe, and fully developed. Lots of help there. What standards apply? None apparently, and my argument is that there is no standard at all.

Much like gravity, it exists, but we can’t really explain what it means, or how it comes to be. We are a bit like Potter Stewart, associate justice of the US Supreme Court commenting on pornography–“I know it when I see it.”

We take it for granted that we all know what we mean, but I submit, we all mean slightly different things. Ask a child and they will tell you, it’s the inexplicable excuse used by parents to deny them something they want to do. “You’re not mature enough to  . . . .” So it’s a fairly bad word to a kid. Ask a kid how they define maturity, and they will tell you that it has to do with age, thus to them emulating adult behavior constitutes “acting mature.”

This leads to all kinds of bad consequences from smoking, to drinking to indiscriminate sex. Kids are not the only ones who think that maturity comes with age however. We tend to push that concept as adults. “We are mature,” by definition. We may explain that last year or ten years ago, we weren’t, but nobody doesn’t think they aren’t mature NOW.

We talk about crops “maturing” and animals maturing to adulthood. Clearly we are talking about a physical concept and blending it with a psychological concept. They are not the same. And maturity is not always to be applauded since we like “baby lettuce” rather than old lettuce, but we like our wine mature.

When looking at emotional maturity, we can give attributes to it, well sort of. It in part has to do with being able to foresee long term consequences. As children we are often told that we  “don’t think ahead” and that we are “impulsive.” Adults believe that maturity is measured by being able to look down the road and see what might logically result from our choice. Kids don’t do that well.

Big problem here! Brain study shows that the human brain in terms of it’s “judgment” capabilities, doesn’t mature until the late 20’s or so. And what does that say about us? We typically allow eighteen year olds the right to engage in most adult activities except drinking. We can contract ourselves into serious debt, we can sign up to risk or lives in war, and we can take on dangerous jobs. So are we being outrageously immoral in allowing youngsters of this age to make such important decisions? Are they in fact capable of realizing the consequences of their actions?

I think we also impute to maturing a certain sense of “loss of innocence.” Mature people have lost a sense of idealism and see the world as “how it really is.” We are, we believe, more capable of making “correct” decisions because we are not hampered by childish “pie-in-the-sky” ideas about people and institutions. Children have too much “trust” in the goodness of humanity, too much optimism about the future, too little consciousness of mortality.

But in the end, this brings us no closer to defining maturity. And I would argue, it is one of those things, as I said, like gravity–clearly in existence, but no one really can put their finger on why or how. The reason? Because we all define it according to our own experiences.

If I claim to be mature today, it is because I believe that I make decisions based on the appropriate considerations. I have examined all the consequences to myself and my loved ones, and any others who might be affected. I have weighed the pros and cons.

When I look at someone else, I examine their choices and see if they fall in line with what I would likely do given the same “facts.” If so, the person is mature like me, if not, not so much. That’s pretty much it isn’t it?

On a list of things, most of us might agree on many choices as “mature.” Yet, unless the hapless person who is growing up in the world today, can memorize all these individual examples, they are left with nothing but mere platitudes explaining what is expected of them.

Which all means nothing much in the end I guess. Except that kids have a fairly legitimate gripe when they complain that they are given little in the way of direction for reaching maturity. They are given no book to read that defines it all for them, and gives them pointers on how to achieve it. We retain our allegiance to the arbitrary “age” at which time it is somehow magically dispensed upon our sleeping heads as we turn that magical eighteen, or twenty-one if you prefer.

Yet, clearly it does not, since there are mothers-in-law a plenty, who will be happy to explain the “immaturity” of said son or daughter-in-law. And plenty of spouses who moan about the lack of maturity of their other half when it comes to money or entertainment choices. So we clearly recognize that this age definer doesn’t really work.

It all comes down to the fact that there is no really good barometer here.  I’m mature enough to recognize that!

Just sayin’.

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