All Commentary
Thursday, April 1, 1965

The Freedom of Maturity

From the January 1965 issue of The Flying A, a publication of the Aeroquip Corporation of Jackson, Michigan, of which Mr. Barger is Editor.

The truly unfettered life is that marked by order and responsibility.

Not too many years ago it was considered an exercise of personal freedom when great-grandfather drove strangers off his land at gunpoint or solved the problem of bothersome neighbors by pulling up stakes and heading west. This freedom to act as our hardy an­cestor did is, in most cases, denied the members of today’s compli­cated society.

But now our increased knowl­edge of human behavior suggests that, for all this freedom of action, great-grandfather might not have been free where it really counted—in his own mind. He may have been the slave of his own emo­tional immaturity. And his actions, though bold and daring on the surface, may have been a cover for fears that he never dared to face.

The need to develop personal maturity, to face the problems that our forebears sometimes ig­nored, is getting increased atten­tion these days in the social sciences, in religious organizations, and in business. Typical of the growing concern in this area of study is a recent paper entitled, “A Look at Emotional Maturity,” issued by a college in southern Michigan.’

The authors of the paper define maturity as effective or adequate adaptation to inner and outer stress and strain. The lack of suf­ficient maturity, they say, is most commonly revealed in stress situ­ations by reactions which they term “fear,” “flight,” and “fight.”

As an illustration of an imma­ture reaction which involves both “fear” and flight,” they cite the case of a store manager who ar­rived at work on a Monday morn­ing to discover that his failure to adjust the refrigeration at Satur­day’s closing had caused the spoil­age of frozen foods. His reaction? He simply relocked the store and fled, not to be found until that afternoon. Meanwhile an assistant arrived at work and solved the problem.

In another case studied, an ex­ecutive would blow up on the job and fly into temper tantrums. For several days afterward he would sneak into his own office by a pri­vate entrance, seeing only his sec­retary. And in still another case of personal immaturity—one which might be termed the “fight” meth­od of reacting—a machine shop foreman would throw things and shout obscenities at a workman who had made a mistake.

These cases could be multiplied by thousands, and they all add up to a heavy toll in personal wear-and-tear on the individuals in­volved as well as considerable fi­nancial cost to business.

Of course these victims of im­maturity usually lead troubled lives and, in actual practice, have far less freedom to control their affairs than do emotionally stable people. The immature person’s way of life, the authors of the paper say, is the way of the slave and the automaton. It is the way of failure, disappointment, misery, and strife.

What to do about it? The an­swer, of course, lies in the direc­tion of self-improvement, of achiev­ing personal growth and maturity. The paper does not outline a route or offer an easy short cut to such growth. It does, however, suggest several qualities of character which seem to be present in ma­ture persons. The individual’s job is to face himself as he really is and to seek more of these qualities in himself, thus becoming mature or “growing up.”

Principles to Grow By

Not surprisingly, one condition for growth seems to be the devel­opment of definite princlples as well as purpose. The paper says, “Whatever one calls it, a balanced life calls for goals, beliefs, and baselines which act as a guide for the thought and action of an indi­vidual. He can think through the what and why before he moves to the how of his conduct.”

Such a person “responds” to situations, he doesn’t react to them. An insult does not throw him into rage, mistakes or threats do not cause him to lose control. He remains in charge of himself. “Why should I let this other per­son decide what my conduct should be?” replied a man, when asked why he hadn’t struck back at an insult.

A second characteristic of the mature person is flexibility, the ability to “roll with the punch.” This is not indifference or resigna­tion. The authors insist that the individual must keep at his best. But he should have the capacity to yield gracefully and with no great sense of personal loss when the occasion calls for it. The mature man recognizes the need for change and for accommodating himself at times to the views and wishes of others. He does not waste his time and energy in a rigid defensive effort to have his own way all the time.

Self-acceptance seems to be the third quality of mature personal­ity. The grown-up person has learned to accept himself as he is and does not lose himself in vain fantasy or a futile yearning for perfection. He knows that he is a creature of mistakes and he lives with that reality.

At the same time, however, he perceives his own possibility for improvement and growth. He may never become perfect, but if he continues to try, he will get better. That knowledge alone is enough to lift today’s efforts and problems to a higher plane in his attitude toward them.

The last quality named is cour­age, indispensable in the freedom of maturity. Without courage, no person could face himself in the first place, or go through the enor­mous personal effort and heart­ache that usually accompany growth. But it is courage that gives the individual his forward motion.

Courage sometimes has a dra­matic sound, as if it’s something that is exercised only on the bat­tlefield or in time of great dan­ger. But the best examples of courage are constantly unfolding all around us. The person who faces a problem in himself and overcomes it has demonstrated courage. So has the individual who tries something new and daring—a business venture, a different line of work, a change of view­point. And it takes considerable courage for a person to admit that he’s been wrong.

But the individual who finds the courage to face problems ar­rives at his goal; he becomes ma­ture by facing problems—the seeking becomes its own reward. He also discovers that many prob­lems can be solved before they ever occur if they’re faced real­istically. In any case, he begins to live as he learns to face and to affirm life. And learning to control himself, he gains a certain degree of control over his life. He has found the freedom that comes with emotional maturity.

  • Melvin D. Barger is a retired corporate public relations representative and writer who lives in Toledo, Ohio. He has been a contributor to The Freeman since 1961.