Do we ever grow up?

Bill-newby L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

The passage of time and our growth and development are so unnoticeably incremental that we find it hard to fathom how we transformed from one state to another.  How often have we remarked, “I’m the same as I’ve always been!” The reflection is of course a comment upon our interior state of mind. Even the most vain of us acknowledges that the superficial skin undergoes observable change.  But we’re not so quick to recognize change in our way of thinking.  Do we really consider we’ve changed from the time we were younger?  And if so, when exactly did the change take place?  A year ago?  Ten years ago?  Ever?

Certainly there can be life-altering events in our lives but that doesn’t mean we changed our character.  I believe rather that we develop contrivances by which to accommodate the external temporal changes.  If,for example, one goes from being a carefree teenager to a mother of three, things are going to change fairly rapidly.  This of course doesn’t mean the girl stops being a girl and suddenly becomes a woman and a wife; instead she alters her behaviour to adapt to the changing circumstances.  Some of the devices may be purely pragmatic – such as training herself to suppress personal desires in favour of family; others may be calculated social conventions – such as encouraging affability by getting others to talk about themselves.  All told, however, nothing really changes.

One likes to imagine that the blessing of maturity will eventually blossom within us.  The take which each of us has upon this complex subject is bound to be different.  There are times when the resulting product is alleged to be the reaction to a harsh or unpleasant experience, something, for example, which suddenly prompts us to speak our own mind. Candid observation and blunt conversation are frequently considered to be signals of maturity and change, even the toxic privilege of “old age”.  Others by contrast adopt a more conciliatory approach and appear to become forgiving.  In either case the question remains, did anything really change?  Or are they just adopting (not adapting) a new posture?

The elemental nature of human beings is something which is not only bred in the bone and genetic but – that even deeper Darwinian concept – instinctive. The science of heredity is so profound that we are prepared to accept that our nature is traced in stone from the moment we’re born.  Anyone familiar with geological and animal documentaries knows about the references to metamorphosis which take place over millions of years: a water-living fish changes to a land-dwelling creature whose gills are adapted to lungs.  This is not something that happened over night.  By extension our own progressive alteration is equally protracted, assuming as I do that centuries of casual moral contemplation will eventually insinuate even the most obdurate surface.

In the result the adaptation may not be so much an improvement of our nature as an adjustment to it.  We simply learn to live with ourselves.  While this still leaves ample room for connivance, manipulation and other self-sustaining and protective measures, the blueprint of our persona likely remains the same.  And probably a good thing.  After all, it would hardly be worth promoting uniformity in all that we do.  Even if the skill of our maturity is confined to finessing the annoyance or obscurity of ourselves and others, at least it facilitates interaction and communication.  Nonetheless there remains the undisturbed toleration of individuality and uniqueness.  Ultimately we’re alone in this universe so anything we can do in the meantime to smooth the waters is welcome, even if not certifiably mature.