In this blog, from time to time I have said that some responses to criticism are more mature than others. To refer to maturity without being clear about what it means can lead to confusion. We must therefore grab hold of this concept by its horns, wrestle it to the ground, and yank off its mask. To do so, please consider the following comic strip.
When Andy says that Marsha is acting immature, it is possible that he means nothing more than that he doesn’t like the way she is acting. His pronouncement may be nothing more than his value judgment.
In contrast, sometimes when the term is used there is a vague idea that there are different developmental levels of maturity, and the person said to be immature is thought to have not reached a more optimal level according to the person doing the judging. Sometimes the person who calls the other person immature is somewhat older then the person being criticized. Older people sometimes believe that they have the authority to decide when a younger person is being immature—that is, the mere fact that they are older gives them the authority to pronounce this type of judgment. Younger people, especially as they move out of childhood and enter into their teenage years, aren’t always convinced that such authority is legitimate.
People studying the body often talk about maturity as it relates to bodily changes. Thus, as children mature they grow taller, and as they mature more, men oftentimes grow facial hair, their voices deepen, etc. When I talk about immaturity and maturity, I am not referring to bodily changes. Nor am I attempting to offer only my value judgment, though the reader, I believe, would be wise to be on guard against anyone making such a claim. As the brilliant physicist and professor, Niels Bohr, used to say, “Every sentence that I utter should be regarded by you not as an assertion but as a question.”
When I say a behavior is more mature than another, I mean it is “better” in the long run, it considers more variables, and represents more comprehensive cognitive problem solving. Individuals who tend to act at higher levels of psychological maturity can think more critically, logically, and scientifically; they can role-play and empathize with the emotions of a wide variety of human beings and can process moral dilemmas according to standards of democratic justice; and they have the ability to puzzle through the tough problems of living, to take a stand, and yet to remain open to possible revisions and new information—thus demonstrating an increased capacity to make successive approximations toward more efficient, effective, economical and beautiful accomplishments.
Such a description of maturity, in a general sort of way, can be valuable to envision as a general goal. Nevertheless, you will find that I will never just rely on this general description whenever I urge you to respond in a more mature manner. Instead, I will provide more specific descriptions of the actions that are necessary to achieve specific goals. For example, I recently provided very specific sets of responses that describe five different maturity levels of responding to criticism. Soon, I will provide specific descriptions of how people at different levels of maturity provide criticism to others. Other aspects of psychological maturity will become evident in time.
So, there you have it—my view of psychological maturity. I hope you will reflect on this and decide for yourself if the term can be useful.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.