Monday, August 15, 2011

The Height of Immaturity

I hate the word 'immature'. It's so judgemental to me. It's like there's this scale or something, and MATURE is a point on it, and you can't reach that point. But since I get called immature from time to time, I've decided to dissect it.

What's Mature?

To understand 'immature', I think we first have to define 'mature'. From a strictly scientific point of view, mature is the attainment of the fully-developed stage of life. From an adult personals standpoint, it means older than 40.

Dictionary.com says:

1. grown or developed
2. adult in manner or thought
3. payable

The mature that we're dealing with is the second one 'adult in manner or thought'.

The problem arises with the definition of what is adult. Once upon a time, the grand majority of people lived the same life: get what ever education was available, get married, find a job and stay in it forever/take care of your household, have 2-14 kids, etc. I don't feel like the word 'immature' was assigned to people who didn't follow that path back then, though. I just watched a video about the 98 year old judo-ka who was the first female to be awarded a tenth dan black belt. All those years ago, she CHOSE judo over the traditional Japanese family life. There was nothing immature about that.

These days, it's easy to define adult physically. The number of years you've been on the planet is easily measurable. All things of a sexual nature are 'adult' (whether or not teens do them too). Drinking alcohol and voting are adult things as well. But the absence of these last three (if you're a celibate adult who doesn't drink and has never voted) doesn't make you any less an adult in my mind.

From here, the definition gets harder. I read somewhere that the average American will change jobs 5 times in their life. In fact, lots of adults these days don't have jobs, or are working in part-time positions previously held by teens or college students. The mentality has shifted so that people want to have assets and standing before they marry, so many people get married later. Medical technology is better, so they have kids later as well.

These days, you can't really look at any single profile and say, 'That is what an adult's life looks like.'

And yet, even though the world has changed so much, the general definition of 'maturity' hasn't really. Having romantic notions about loving your job and changing the world, instead of being a reliably-paid cog in the machine at a stable job that doesn't float your boat, is immature.

The grand irony of society thinking you're immature for running away from the well-beaten path into the overgrown forest is that the world moves forward on the backs of people like us. Continents were 'discovered', inventions created, innovations made, by the type of people who weren't interested in status quo. The same type of people they call immature are the reason they can work in a cubicle on the 27th floor in the IT department.

But on top of this semi-rational definition of adulthood and maturity is one more thing you have to contend with: personal preference. Let's take two women: they're each proposed to by a smart, stable, good-looking guy with a good job, who has a nice car, owns a bit of land, and has a great future all lined up. There's only one problem. He doesn't make her heart want to jump out of her chest.

Woman 1 will say to herself, " He's a nice guy. He's got all the things women fight for. He'll make great babies. I'm 30 years old. I won't get another chance. The mature thing to do is to marry him."

Woman 2 thinks differently. "I can't marry someone who doesn't make me want to explode because I can't hold all my adoration in. But he's perfecct. All my family and friends love him. And he does nothing wrong. And he's got everything. They'll all think I'm crazy to give him up, but I want my marriage to fill me up, not empty me out. The mature thing to do is ignore what everyone else will say and follow my heart.

If Woman 1 and Woman 2 were friends, they might each survey the other's actions and call them immature. But looking back at their logic, whether or not you agree with it, you can see how they each make sense. How they've both struggled with this decision and had to make a sacrifice to move on. There's nothing immature about it. In fact, what the word immature really means is 'different'. Different from the path I would have taken. Different from what society expects.

I get called immature a lot- even by well-meaning close friends. I believe in things that well-meaning 'sensible' people think only belong in fairy tales. I went to the top secondary school on an island that is often voted as having one of the best education systems in the world. And then I went to the hardest college to get into the US. That makes it even worse. People expect even more of me. While many of my secondary school classmates are doctors, lawyers and accountants, I'm floating around as an unqualified teacher. Granted, I'm in Japan, and I've seen 6 of the 7 continents (still trying to figure out the Antartica bit) and I've worked on a passenger submarine, all of which makes me a way cooler topic of conversation that 99 % of them. But I'm still classed as immature. It kind of drives me crazy. Because I'm not.

For many years, I struggled to stick to a path that I despised, but others dictated I be on. I tried to combine what I wanted with what society said I should go after. I looked for ways to be stable and make money in fields I loved. But in the end, it wasn't for me. I don't care about money. I'm not inclined to spend my life living in one country (clearly). I don't want to feel like life is a mathematical equation. And it took incredible willpower to walk away from what the whole world seemed to be pulling me towards. All those things that I could be so good at it for a while until they made me crazy with misery. It STILL takes willpower not to just bow down and do what they think is right. And for me, the choice to be who I am, despite everybody else IS maturity.

That's not to say immaturity doesn't exist. If there'd been a third woman in our previous example and she'd chosen not to marry the guy, not because she didn't love him, but she had a list of pre-requisites a mile long and refused to be with a guy who didn't fold his sock this way or wasn't able to make lasagne, I'd think she was immature. Because if you have a list that long, noone's going to fulfill it, and you really are living in a fairy tale if you think someone will. But 9 times out of time, when people are quick to throw out the word 'immature' what they really mean is, 'that's not the path I think you should take'.

Now that I think about it, it's difficult to judge whether someone else is immature, because you can only really tell if you know both the action and the thought process behind it. So next time you feel tempted to use the word, think it out for a sec. Is that person really doing something immature, or is there a possible reason why they're just being different to what you'd expect?

It's Monday, that's what's on my mind.

4 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Mature and responsible are also interchangeable. And what looks responsible to one person doesn't to another.

Marsha Sigman said...

If I say someone is immature it's because I think they are not taking care of their responsibilities. For example if they are 25 and still living at home playing video games all day (my nephew). But if you support yourself and you're happy, how can that be immature?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, if believing in dreams or fairytales makes me a child, then please let me be one forever.

jbchicoine said...

We (my husband and I) get the 'immature' thing also--we tend not to do the conventional. I joke that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up--but really, I do; it' just simpler to let people think what they will because to explain to someone all the reasons why you choose the less traveled path will only leave them scratching thier heads. Some people will never get it, or us, and maturity dictates that we don't have to justify who we are.

And yes, we--yourself included--will always make 'a way cooler topic of conversation that 99 % of them'! Yay!

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