What is emotional maturity?

kestrelsmI am not sure that I know the answer to this question, but I know the question is important. How odd that we say so little about emotional maturity in Western Society?

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.

values and manifestos

IMG_0935smIt is the season. Politicians are making pledges about policies. But very few people read manifestos and many of us have had enough about policies. What really appeals to us are values and trustworthiness.

There was a time when we could distinguish each of the three main parties in terms of their values, but then they all became same-ish, and they just competed for the latest wheeze in how to make the public finances stack up. The deep truth may have been that they were all caving in to a bigger force. the global financial and economic system was coming to town, or to London, to be precise. First, Margaret Thatcher, then Tony Blair, Gordon Brown  and David Cameron, all bowed down to the new global force. As financiers moved in, and the economy became more and more dependent on them, so the parties ceased to be able to articulate the values out of which they had grown. They had a new master, an unseen puppeteer, who made them dance to a new tune.

‘New Labour’ illustrated the problem, because it was not Labour as we had known it. It was a make-lotsa-money-so-we-can-splurge-it-all-over-the-UK Labour. It was a new ‘pragmatism’ that sold out on old ideas like solidarity and common good, on which the Labour movement had been built, in favour of market solutions to every ill that presented itself.

The difficulty for these parties is that the electorate may be attracted to values at least as much as any policy idea. In a Mori poll ten years ago, 45% of the electorate said that being able to identify with a party’s values was ‘extremely important’ in deciding who to vote for. This explains why the Lib Dems are struggling now. How can liberals form a coalition with the Tories and it not seem that they have sold out on their values? The public feel betrayed by the fact of the coalition irrespective of any minor policy successes that they might score along the way.

This is why both UKIP and the Greens are  in the ascendant. Their common denominator is that they are not dancing to the finance houses. Nigel Farage says that those who vote UKIP do so out of an attitude of mind. Now, you may find, as I do, that UKIP’s ‘attitude of mind’ is highly obnoxious, but at least they have one! The Greens also do not dance to the puppeteer. Natalie Bennett’s unfortunate hesitation in interview last week did make her look like she was not in command of her brief, but her refreshingly human admission of weakness in response, may have actually added to the Greens’ attractiveness. The Greens have some clear values and some radical policies to go with them. But the public will also be asking another question. Can they be trusted? With no record in government, that is a much harder question for them to answer.

Values are the basic commitments out of which we live. They are the rules of thumb that we use in many of the big decisions about where we put our energies and who we associate with. We will be hearing more about values. See Common Cause for a recent influential initiative in this area.

So where do I stand on values? Justice, well-being, harmony with the earth these are the values I try to express. There is no doubt in my mind that climate change and other issues to do with our relationship with the earth pose whole new challenges for us as human beings in the twenty first century. Global capitalism must be identified as the primary root cause of our abusive behaviour and the need for a transformed economic system is now absolutely evident. Or as Naomi Klein’s new book announces ‘This changes everything

We need a song for Paris 2015

IMG_0939smImagine the power of millions of people gathered in cities and regions around the world singing a visionary song about the earth and all that lives existing in a new harmony together. And imagine this happening as a prelude to the climate change global summit in Paris in December 2015.

Music is an under-utilised resource in human communities today. Talk to whales, dolphins, elephants and birds, they know all about music as a tool to negotiate their common life, but then they are not saddled with words. Ian McGilchrist, in The Master and his Emissary speaks of music as rooted in the pre-verbal world and in mimicry. We hear someone singing something and we pick it up, we try, we join in and the great harmony develops. Music is not about notes on a page, but sounds of life, that communicate emotionally as well as intellectually. It is part of that vast implicit realm of life beyond words

Human communities have often been gathered together by music, as a particular song, or tune, becomes identified with values and emotions that people aspire to. It seems to me that we need this now in relationship to climate change and the whole raft of issues concerning our relationship with the earth.

Placard waving and dressing up can only do so much in trying to press a point home to those in authority. The world of demo chants is tired and terribly limited. We need to sing!

Who will compose a song for us that will truly catch the public imagination and inspire us for this moment? It could be that 2015 will go down in human history as the last chance that we had to avert catastrophic climate change.

So we are looking for a song, that can be sung in many languages. It will be a community song, not one that has to be performed by ‘stars’, but one that will be sung by everyone to express their shared feelings and values concerning the earth.

What do you think?



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