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Monday, May 13, 2013

Two Matures

by Shawn Tucker (bio)

From my experiences of LDS North American culture, we use "mature" in two ways. One way is as a merely descriptive word, as in "the young apple tree is not yet mature enough to have apples." This is a common use of the word, but it is not the most common usage that I have observed, especially when talking about LDS young people. When someone says, "that youth is not very mature," the word is used as a value judgment. Some young women and young men want to be considered "mature," since this is associated with goodness, respectability, and adult-like behavior. Youth that want leaders and some young people to like them find currency in being considered mature. Other young people, or even the same young people in different situations, reject the constraints and manipulation that would go with the stigma of being considered immature, but do so at considerable risk.

What I seem to see is that when leaders accuse young people of being "immature," those leaders are comparing. They are saying that these youth over here are good, respectable, and adult-like, while others are mischievous, silly, and childish. The problem with comparison is that it is always unfair and leads to conflict and competition. To compare two youths, even of the same family, even twins, is to strip away all that makes them rich and mysterious. It is to reduce them to some superficial qualities and to calculate their goodness against that of others. Furthermore, it is to base this comparison by appealing to a standard of the leader's own invention. C.S. Lewis and then President Ezra Taft Benson had some pretty strong words about comparison's damning dynamics (see Mere Christianity and Beware of Pride).

Besides the problem of comparison, what leaders really seem to mean when they say that someone is immature is not just that they dislike how that person is behaving, but they dislike that person. The youth is not acting according to that leader’s expectations or desires, therefore she or he is "immature."

I have reached this conclusion because, in my opinion, all youth are immature in the first sense of the word. They are not adults, and they can be quite childish—and good for them. They are supposed to be young apple trees. Perhaps it is our own foolishness which gives us unrealistic expectations. But the greater danger might be that we feel frustrated in our failed attempts to control and manipulate them, and therefore, since they are not acting like us, like the adults, they are immature. Youth are impossible to control and are unpredictable—good for them. Youth will say things that are completely unfiltered—good for them. Youth are novices; this is their first time at this. They make lots of (sometimes hilarious) mistakes—good for them.

But, finally, notice how we rarely accuse youth that we love, especially that we love for who they are, of being immature. We take it as a matter of course that they are immature, but in the first sense and not the second use of the word. It is neither good nor bad; it just is. Instead, what we see is that they are young and brave and trying and failing and trying again and failing better and then succeeding brilliantly, sort of. And, if we are lucky, we are privy to that adventure, maybe even to influence ever so slightly part of the outcome.

Perhaps it is time that we let go of the comparison and coercion that go with accusations of "immaturity."

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