Published on 2024-03-05


One thing I really remember standing out to me a lot as a teenager, and of course, even moreso as a child, was the overwhelming awareness of my age relative to everybody else's. When I was 10, in I don't know, middle school or something, I'd look up to high schoolers with a certain awe. They were like, an entirely different class of person. Similarly, when I was in high school, I had a certain reverence for people in university. Even today, I find I look at people not attending school and working a full-time job as being on a fundamentally higher rank in life than me

That's becoming less true, these days.

Maturity is kind of a flimsy word. I often talk about things like "emotional maturity"--a phrase I take to mean one's aptness to deal with and navigate the complexities of social relationships. I suppose there's other kinds of maturity, but that's the only one I'm really concerned with. It's the only one that meaningfully affects other people.

When I was younger, I always thought maturity tracked pretty closely to how old you are. I saw them as virtually synonymous, if not synonymous. I suppose when you're young (at least in my culture), you don't really interact with many adults. You really just have your parents and your educators. Besides that, public school does a lot of work in engineering all your friends to be the same age. We get these surprisingly strict cohorts of people, fairly easily distinguished between an age gap of only one year.

Now that I live "on my own" (that is, with many other people), I often find that in any group of people, I'm usually the youngest, usually by up to 10 years. It's funny, because I often don't even notice.

It's a lot clearer now that at a certain point, maturity has very little to do with your age, and everything to do with the number and variety of experiences you've had. When you're young, you're getting a whole lot of new experiences very quickly, but things don't change as much as you get older, I find. A person can spend their entire life cushy, facing very little adversary. Naturally, when confronted with adversary, those people, no matter how old they are, will have much fewer ideas of how to navigate it.

For example, many people will talk your ear off about the importance of being able to endure pain. Few of these people know what pain truly means, in the way someone who suffers from chronic pain probably would. I know I sure as hell don't. I care a lot about resiliency but I'm sure if I had to endure an hour of what someone with chronic pain endures every day, I'd crumble immediately. I don't have that experience; I haven't experientally learned how to navigate those kinds of problems.

Similarly, some people are given a lot of leeway to use outbursts of anger to deal with their problems. Personally, I don't feel like I've been granted that right, and I think I'm better for it. Angry outbursts are really not an effective way to deal with conflict; I had to learn that the hard way. But, angry outbursts are often enough do get you (at least, if you're a certain kind of person) what you want, only with externalities you're permitted to ignore. Different circumstances of life can lead you to entrench very different paths of least resistance, for the better or the worse.

My favourite example is how often I meet people over twice my age who, despite all their lived-experience, still insist that they have more to say about who I am than I do. I imagine the better, more "emotionally mature" perspective would be the importance of listening, to listen twice as much as you speak, to have a desire to learn from first-hand experience. But nonetheless, I learn obviously untrue things about myself every day from everyone I meet, whether I want to or not.

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But all the same, who am I to say? I wouldn't say that I'm unconfident in how I perceive the world. I often worry that I might be too confident. Nonetheless, I'll probably learn a horrifying number of new paradigm-shifting things before my time on this mortal coil expires. Or maybe not; maybe I'll be the exact same person fifty years from now as I am today. I'm not sure which thought scares me more.

The more I think about it, the more I start to think "maturity" isn't actually a meaningful way of framing the way people interact with each other at all. The problem, of course, is that maturity seems to presuppose that there is a "right" way to be. And, to call something "immature" seems to suggest that whatever that right way to be looks like, I approximate it better than you. If we're to take something like humility to be a fundamentally mature behaviour, as I do, then there's a pretty obvious contradiction here.

In this sense, there is no "maturity," only different and conflicting experiences. Different numbers, different varieties, all with their benefits and drawbacks.

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