Those defects can keep us alive to the need to change
TWENTY years ago emotional immaturity was mentioned and discussed in our Fellowship frequently and in depth. We had a monopoly on it in those days. All of us were impressed. The fact that we all had it in varying degrees was universally accepted. It was a satisfying explanation for a great deal of crazy behavior which could not be ascribed to any other cause. It was a sort of catch-all defense.
The total wordage in the Grapevine on this subject must be monumental. Our immaturity is placed on the block as Exhibit “A” and its disastrous consequences are parsed ad infinitum. Yet the discussions never seem to be conclusive. It seems like turning the spotlight on the same old scarecrow over and over again.
A few years ago I started to cast about for some new approach or basis for consideration. I found myself asking the question: When does one really become mature? And the only answer I ever found was that a man can only become mature when he is dead. Working back from that answer, a whole new truth dawned on me, and I would like to share it.
Sometimes infants and small children are not the cute, adorable little innocents that all of us would like to imagine. As a rule, babies are completely selfish. They have no conception of or interest in other people’s wants. They are often dirty, ruthless and uncontrolled. Solely by reason of their helplessness and dependence, they dominate the household and command its affections. With rare exceptions there could be nothing more anti-social than a baby. Hence, a person who grows up physically but retains the emotional characteristics of an infant will probably present a picture of mental disturbance or criminality; at the very least he will be dangerously anti-social.
Consider a person who does not like to be alone in the wide open spaces. We can say of him that he has outgrown the dependency of childhood partly, and doesn’t need an adult close at hand to help with every problem, but when he finds himself alone with nature he is not unlike a young child who wakens alone in a dark wood.
An habitual criminal is immature, we can see, not in his dependency on others, but because of his total disregard for others, their property and rights, characteristic of early childhood.
The damaging elements of immaturity, which most of us retain in varying degrees, are related to these negative factors which can be accepted in a child, but not in an adult. In their common essence they represent unadulterated selfishness. Self-pity, lack of regard for the other fellow, inability to face reality because it trespasses on our selfish little dream world, resentment over imagined wrongs, all of these and many others add up to an impressive total of misery for us and those who come in contact with us.
Can we imagine what a mature person really is? I think so. He will be temperate in his habits, will be able to postpone immediate satisfaction with patience, and will be as considerate of the other fellow as he is of himself. He will have the capacity for calm judgment at all times. He will be decisive, but always open to advice. He will be humble, never arrogant. He will gain satisfaction from mere achievement, without pride or desire for personal recognition. He will know his own abilities, but even more importantly he will be aware constantly of his own limitations. While he will be profoundly tolerant of the views of others, he will have the courage to support his own. But what are we talking about? Such a mature person never existed. We are talking of a paragon. With tongue in cheek we might say that it is immature to imagine that anyone ever became completely mature.
Many people reach a certain plateau of life and sit down. You just know they will never change. But they are not mature, they are simply in a state of arrested development. Nothing new lies in their future. And so a new small truth emerges. We need to be needled by our immaturities if we are to progress at all!
Small children are indeed often selfish, uncontrolled and inconsiderate. But with their defects they have many virtues. Is it possible that, in our attempt to exterminate our childish defects, we do too little to revive the virtues? Children are responsive and eager for new experiences. They have candor in speech and spontaneity in action. They have a sense of awe and wonder about the world around them. They have an avid curiosity and a simple unquestioning faith. Look at the man who has either outgrown or lost these juvenile virtues. He may breathe and walk around but he is mentally and spiritually dead.
Remember the statement: “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Many of us suffer from a sense of guilt and frustration when in our continuing self-inventories we recognize that we are still so hopelessly immature. We should bear in mind that in varying degrees this is a universal condition among all people. Though we may reach a point where we present a decent picture of adulthood to the world, and even to ourselves, there must always be the child behind that picture to bring growth and future progress. As we fight to remove the blocks of juvenile defects, we must nourish the childlike virtues which egg us on. In our inventories we must always include the child inside that cries for further advancement until the very day we die.