Growing Old or Growing Up?
I am a far more wise being now than I was even ten years ago; ideally, that’s how it goes.
“Growing up” is a phrase that most people associate with youth and, curiously, considering societies obsession with youth, it implies that it – growing up – is a good thing, a desirable thing, something one might even aspire to. And, indeed, it is… it is also nothing that need stop when ones height reaches a certain point at which physical growth stops, for growing up is more than simply growing upwards.
When one is young, physically growing up is a challenge in itself so it is no wonder that mental growing up proceeds at a somewhat slower rate; it’s enough for the mind just to keep up with all those changes; the struggle with philosophical concepts can wait till things have settled down a bit… if things do, in fact, settle down a bit.
We are a species that is almost painfully slow to mature; our brains require a couple of decades to fall into line and even at that point, they are not entirely reliable… but we are trained to think that they are. Thus do we create many of our own problems and only the subtle art of self-reflection can save us from ourselves.
When we are young, we are the center of our own universes and when we are young, that does not matter as we are not in charge of much more than our own behavior and if we happen to get ‘put’ in charge of more than that, we begin to grow up at an accelerated rate. This tends to rob us of many of the self-centered and carefree joys of being young and that can have ramifications on our so-called ‘grown up’ selves, rendering us over-concerned adults who are unable to be playful. Childhood and all its self-indulgent behavior actually serves a purpose. There is a time to be grown up and it is not at age eight… or even thirteen.
Physical growing up is unavoidable, mental growing up, while ideal, is quite avoidable. One sees evidence of this pretty much everywhere. Physical growing up just happens but mental growing up is an on-going process that must, by its nature, involve our participation if we are to actually grow up mentally. Mental growing up – learning to think – has a great deal to do with what one witnesses in life, with how one spontaneously responds to what one has witnessed, and with how ones reactions to those things as well as how ones reactions are reacted to by others and then, ultimately, with how one deals with that feed-back.
Imagine how useful it might be if children were taught about the existence of that process by involved parents who understood it themselves. Imagine how much kinder a world this would be if a parent, …” instead of a) smacking the child, b) screaming at the child, c) forbidding the child to ever, ever, ever do that again, or d) etc., could say to his or her child instead, ”I know that you want to walk down the middle of the street but consider these possibilities…” Imagine if parents taught their children how to think, not what to think (which is what usually happens), but how to think.
Bright children will challenge their parents; this is a good thing and presents further opportunities for parental instruction such as presenting to an offspring the more enlightened version of “because I said so,” a phrase which teaches a child only that its parent is a fool. The phrase I am referring to is: “because I am the parent and you are the child.” The use of this phrase teaches a great deal about the inherent structure of society, particularly when followed by the information that one day, when said child is old enough, he or she will have the opportunity to set guidelines for their children… or not, as they please, because then they will be the parent. This phrase provides hope along with information and gives the child an opportunity to think as well as to obey.
Without learning how to think we do not ever grow up, we just grow old and that seems to me both dull and unpleasant. Using the mind only as a blunt instrument that has been trained to follow instruction – or dogma – is a waste. The fine art of thinking, of using the mind to assess, tease out, and explore life in its many aspects while at the same time balancing the ever-active minds tendencies to go overboard, provides a life of never-ending interest and wonder. Yoked to the inherent and hopefully equally nourished abilities of sensing and feeling, thinking allows for a compassionate life that respects all other lives – including all of nature – as it respects itself.
This is the life lived by Wise Men, Wise Women, Elders. If only we will teach our children to think, we can give them the gift of not growing old, ever, but of truly growing UP.