Monday, March 17, 2008

Four Levels of Maturity: Adulthood, Part 2

During the past few months, we’ve been looking at maturity and how it affects the world of fiction, and each level we’ve examined thus far (infancy, childhood, and adolescence) has carried very specific dangers. Adulthood is no different.

But before we look at the dangers, let’s quickly review the characteristics of adults (both physical and spiritual), which we talked about a couple weeks ago:

  • Adults are very diverse.

  • With adulthood comes much freedom—and much responsibility.

  • The focus is on maintenance rather than growth.

  • Adults are viewed more as teachers/mentors than students.

In short, adults have developed discerning minds, understood their limitations, and now pass that knowledge onto others.

The Dangers

But as stated above, while adults have the most freedom of any maturity level, their freedom comes with the price of responsibility. The responsibility to care for the infant. The responsibility to be a good role-model to children. The responsibility to guide adolescences through rocky terrain.

The danger in this comes when all that freedom and responsibility goes to the head. As adults, it’s easy to forget that, though we may have more knowledge and experience than those under our care, we have much to learn, even from those with less experience.

If we forget that, a whole multitude of problems results. Having the greater authority, we are tempted to enforce guidelines as hard and fast rules. Limitations that we personally have become measuring sticks to judge others—“You should never read/watch that; it’s evil!” Ruts develop as we read or watch only certain genres, limiting our perspective. We have come to falsely believe we’ve “made it” when there’s so much more to learn and experience.

But perhaps the greatest danger is that adults like this risk losing all the good of the earlier stages: we endanger the receptiveness of infants, the wonder of childhood, and the “sky’s the limit” enthusiasm of teens.

The Safeguards

But these dangers don’t have to take root. Not that there is an easy answer. There isn’t, maybe even more so for this level than any other previous one simply because of the diverseness of the group. However, there are a few rails that can help us stay on the right track:

  • Interact with all ages—and their fictional worlds. Watch Veggie Tales with a four-year-old. Read an adventure story written for 8-12 year-olds. Chaperone teens to a movie. Then listen to what the kids of those ages are saying; their observations might just surprise you.

  • Take a risk. Do you usually read romances? Try a fantasy or a thriller next time. Prefer the dark and creepy? Watch an old comedic movie. It will help balance out your perspective and deter de-sensitization; and by pushing your personal limitations occasionally, you may find a new appreciation of the familiar and expand your old boundaries. Don’t always say “no,” but “I’ll give it a try” occasionally.

  • Remember, you’re still learning too! That’s why we form guidelines in the first place: so they can change when we and the world around us changes. It also allows for adaptation because—gasp!—we just might be wrong. So be willing to consider those things outside the box; you might discover a brand-new world.

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