Definitions of Maturity: The Torah and the Nickelodean Street

The TV company, Nickelodeon, recently wanted to promote a new TV series (Wendell and Vinnie) which features a man whose life circumstances force him into ‘maturity.’ In conjunction with the new series, Nickelodeon commissioned a study to find out what are considered the popular definitions of maturity and what is the assumed timing for men and women maturing. They found that in the popular view men mature much later (11 years later, in fact, age 32 versus 43). Five of the most commonly cited (of the 30 or so) definitions of maturity, or more accurately of immaturity, that emerged in the popular view were:

1. He finds humor in his passing gas and burping.
2. He eats fast food in the wee hours.
3. He plays video games.
4. He drives too fast or races other cars.
5. He snickers at rude words.

The list goes on, and hardly gets more profound. But there is hope; at some point the man seems to grow up and stops doing these things. In a word, at around age 43, men get serious (somewhat) while women ‘get it’ much earlier. In follow-up interviews conducted around the world it turns out that many men are not terribly excited about this thing called maturity. Maturity in this view could rather be summed up as becoming a bit stale and boring, losing a good deal of life’s gusto and fun. Some did not plan on, much less look forward to, maturing at all. Most thought that too much of this maturing thing could dampen even the best life.

The idea of the study was intriguing to me. As a student of the Torah’s model of maturity I asked myself if maturity can be summed up by simply slowing the engine down a bit. The answer is a resounding no. The Torah’s definition can be juxtaposed with the most secular definition which the Nickelodeon study puts forth. The top five features of the more mature person in the Torah are:

1. He has expanded the range of options at his disposal and is thereby able to be appropriate; not limiting himself to the responses that he was born with. He is able to be fun and serious, spending freely and be miserly, be gracious and strict, all as the situation calls.
2. He has begun to make room for others; not only focusing on himself.
3. He has begun to consider the impact of his feelings, actions and thoughts (FAT) and does not suffice with the immediate ‘I want, I need’.
4. He is able to take more factors into account than one who is less mature can.
5. He is more receptive to growth, more able to be wrong and more open to hearing other options and opinions than his less mature counterpart.

In the words of the Mishna, the wise, mature person is called a Chacham and is juxtaposed with the raw material of humanity, called Golem. The Golem is not some Frankenstein-like creature; he is the raw material, the immature side in each of us. The Mishna lists characteristics of the Golem:

1. He tends to speak out of turn, without deference to those whose opinions he should defer to, or those whose opinions he should be encouraging.

2. He interrupts.

3. He has an urgency to respond when spoken to or acted towards.

4. His questions and responses are not to the point of that which is being discussed.

5. He is not able to maintain order in his thoughts and actions.

6. He is unable to admit that there are things that he has not yet learned.

7. He has difficulty admitting when he is wrong.

If we find ourselves doing any of the above that is not a sign of evil; it is rather an indication of lingering immaturity. These change as we age and focus on expanding our natural selves rather than remaining bound by our birth-nature.

In summary, the Nickelodeon community has asserted that maturity is about slowing down, becoming staid, and possibly a bit stale. In the Torah view it is about expanding the range of options, of moving from predictable (based on my native nature) to appropriate (responding to the present moment). Now, all we need is to grow up and become the community that can be poled and will give the Torah’s answers to the question of what constitutes maturity.

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