Every social animal needs to learn to manage its emotions in relation to its social context. The rage, the love, the jealousy, the loyalty, each needs to be managed. Each is potentially overwhelming and teeters on a knife edge between being socially useful and being socially destructive.
And somehow we have to learn to work with these feelings, so emotional maturation must be a vital part of the education of the young.
So what do we know? Most would agree that the child with the tantrum needs to learn to control their emotions. This might be translated into the need to move from immediate gratification of a desire through to the ability to deal constructively with a desire that is delayed, or denied.
Also I think most would agree that the wholesale suppression of emotion is also unhelpful as in Victorian style schooling and those public schools that still work these systems. The person who no longer feels their relationship with the world can become insensitive to the point of being psychopathic and a culture based on emotional suppression is very odd and potentially dysfunctional. It is deeply worrying how many of our leading politicians in the UK were brought up in situations of emotional dysfunction.
The path to emotional maturity may have at least three components. The first is the home, a place of emotional security unlike any other, if it is working well, but also a place where appropriate inner constraints can be learned most constructively. The second is the community around us. Here we have the opportunity to encounter those who are different in age, race or opinion, who may check our inappropriate public behaviour. As community life has become more weak and fearful and families more isolated, then children are meeting less ‘other’ adults, with consequent negative impact on their emotional learning. How many adults today fear saying anything critical to the youth who is behaving anti-socially? This must be a primary weakness in terms of young people’s emotional education. The third path to emotional maturity is the school. Schools are expected to deal with all aspects of a child’s education today, unfairly in my opinion. Emotional immaturity is a problem schools are picking up, but have little ability to deal with. Teachers may spend half their time maintaining order in the classroom because of emotional problems in the young, yet they are measured on examination results. So there is a basic mismatch between what is needed by the pupils and what is asked for by the system.
Finally, there must be concerns about emotional maturity amongst the adult population. With families breaking down everywhere, we must ask whether we have become a society of emotional incompetents. How could this be? Contributions may have come from
- John Stuart Mill and the utilitarian teaching that we should be free to do anything that does not cause actual harm to another
- Jean-Paul Sartre and the existentialist urge to be ‘authentic’, whatever role the society might try to impose on you
- Consumerism that deliberately identifies products with our desires and urges immediate gratification
Such teachings have entered the world of our assumptions and mean that we have lost a language to discuss what emotional maturity might mean and how we should get there.
We need to recover a proper sense of emotional maturity in relation to one another, but also in relation to the earth. This is another arena where we must accept constraints on our ‘freedom’. We are part of a community of creatures sharing the ecosystems of the same planet. There are necessary constraints on our behaviour. If we cant manage such constraint in our human to human interactions, we will not recognise the issues raised in relation to the earth.