“Why don’t you just grow up!” Has anyone ever said this to you? Have you ever said this to someone else? Usually, someone says “grow up” in the context of an exchange about selfish, inconsiderate, entitlement, or thoughtless behavior. The implication of the admonition to “grow up” is for the targeted person to act more maturely, responsibly, or thoughtfully, but what does growing up really mean? I believe, as Dr. Thomas Hora in Beyond the Dream argued, it means becoming a “beneficial presence.” A beneficial presence is a quality of consciousness that elevates, harmonizes, unifies, and inspires others by simply being in the world. It has little to do with doing good or trying to change the world through social action because a beneficial presence can be anyone.
To “grow up,” to become a beneficial presence, means to successfully resolve four fundamental, developmental tasks. These four tasks face us immediately at birth and challenge us throughout our lifespan. All four tasks are equally important to resolve in order to realize our full human potential. All four tasks are interdependent. That is, failure to progress on one task will slow or stall development on the others. The tasks are clearly directional in nature, attaining resolution only when certain character strengths and virtues are fully present. Therefore, growing up is like a quest, akin to Dorothy and her friends traveling the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. There are allies, but also a seemingly overwhelming number of adversaries, obstacles, setbacks, and challenges to face. In fact, many developmental psychologists believe birth, the auspicious beginning of this quest, is a wrenching experience of profound separation. The infant is painfully thrust from the uterine environment into the harsh, cold reality of the world, much like Dorothy being torn from her idyllic home in Kansas and thrust into the totally unfamiliar and alien place called Oz. Hence, after taking its first few breaths, the next thing the newborn does is emit a piercing, mewling cry. Perhaps, at some subconscious level, the infant already knows the difficult and daunting tasks awaiting it.
Fortunately, there is an inherent drive toward completing these tasks. This inherent drive could be called the human spirit–an energetic, directional, nearly unstoppable inner drive toward completion and wholeness. Much like a sprouted seed pushes up through the darkness into the light, or the root cracking concrete to find water, this drive to complete the four tasks is what enables people to exceed their limitations, to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, or to rebound from devastating catastrophes. Quintessential examples are Helen Keller and Stephen Hawking. We could say the “Lifeforce” is with us.
The Four Tasks of Growing Up
What then, are the four tasks? Here is a quick overview of the tasks. Future posts will be devoted to each task.
Ignorant to Intelligent–this task is moving from having no information, ideas, or concepts to having a fund of information, ideas, and concepts. This task consists of our intellectual/cognitive development. At birth, an infant has no words, no facts, no ideas, no concepts, and no beliefs. Acquiring language skills (speaking, reading, and writing) is also an essential component of this task. How does an infant with only sensory modalities to start with, eventually become an informed, communicative person whose decisions and actions are shaped by an integrated, comprehensive, and coherent thought system? Think about it. What a monumental learning achievement! Thankfully, there are four basic ways we learn–through trial and error, observation, instruction (formal and informal), and realization. The most important outcome of this task is the development of our thought system of which the ego is a major component. Beliefs, attitudes, ethics, morals, and values are all learned aspects of becoming intelligent. Here can arise major obstacles if the thought system is comprised of mostly invalid beliefs.
Undisciplined to Disciplined--this task is moving from a complete lack of self-regulation to exercising self-control. Although all tasks are equally important, significant delays on this task are especially likely to hinder progress on the other tasks. At birth, an infant virtually has no impulse control and no competences. So, this task involves learning to delay gratification, to tolerate frustration, to accept limits, to persist under adversity, to express emotions appropriately, to anticipate consequences, to accept correction, to resist temptation, and to become self-sufficient. At a very basic level, resolving this task means learning to face pain in whatever form–from dealing with inconvenience and unpleasantness to effectively problem solving when encountering difficult situations. Put another way, this task is about learning survival skills, and its importance cannot be overemphasized.
Separate to Together–this task is moving from a sense of self apart from others to a sense of unity with others. This is our social development and is the most convoluted task because first, we have to attach to someone (usually a primary care-giver), then detach in order to develop a sense of self-identity, then reattach to others with a sense of unity or commonality. Being part of a family, making and keeping friends, identifying with a group, joining with others to achieve mutual interests, and showing concern or taking action for the well-being of others are all part of this task.
Unaware to Aware–this task is moving from having no sense of one’s place in the universe to having a sense of oneness with the creative force. This task is essentially our spiritual development. Strong arguments can be made that this is not really a developmental task or even a component of “growing up.” I believe people can attain a high level of psychological functioning without incorporating a belief in the Divine, especially if they fully resolve the other three tasks. Nevertheless, I choose to make this task fundamental to human development, because the resolution of this task adds a deeper dimension to human experience and expands human consciousness. Dr. Thomas Hora puts it this way,
“A well-educated man may be well-informed, but he is not yet a wise man. He can become a wise man only if his consciousness is spiritualized. This makes him a different man, a man who is tuned in on a source of higher intelligence, which is God. And the more he is tuned in on a source of higher intelligence, the more creative, the more loving, the more harmonious and healthy he becomes.”
Any man or woman who fully completes a spiritual journey will be a truly beneficial presence in this world.
What does a real “grown-up” look like?
Using these four tasks as reference points, you can assess whether you are truly grown up because there are character strengths with visible behavioral expressions that arise and become salient when each task is resolved. For instance, If you are advanced on the task of ignorant to intelligent you will have the character strengths of open-mindedness and tolerance which you visibly exhibit by;
> continually seeking knowledge through reading, research, dialogue, and other media venues,
> participating in formal/informal educational opportunities,
> readily admitting when you “don’t know” or when you have made a mistake,
> listening to and seeking other points of view,
> expressing and adhering to attitudes, values, ethics, and principles which reflect wisdom and understanding,
> having a deep and wide knowledge of the human condition.
If you are advanced on the task of undisciplined to disciplined you will possess the character strengths of honesty, patience, and faithfulness which you will visibly exhibit by;
> delaying gratification,
> setting and reaching goals,
> persisting under pressure,
> practicing moderation,
> telling the truth,
> accepting “no” or appropriate limitations,
> overcoming obstacles,
> expressing emotions appropriately.
If you are advanced on the task of separate to together you will possess the character strengths of generosity, defenselessness, and gentleness which you will visibly exhibit by;
> accepting and valuing differences,
> being accountable to others,
> inviting correction from others,
> being nonjudgmental,
> promoting harmony and goodwill in all social contexts,
> acting kindly,
> showing appreciation,
> serving others in some capacity,
> comforting, guiding or mentoring others,
If you are advanced on the task of unaware to aware you have the character traits of trust and joy which you will visibly demonstrate by;
> laughing frequently,
> spontaneously bursting out with singing and/or dancing,
> seeing and creating beauty,
> being mindful,
> expressing vitality and exuberance,
> expressing an appreciation for the sacred and holy,
> seeking opportunities to unite with the Divine through meditation, prayer, or other practices,
> sharing peace, gratitude, assurance, and true empathy with all forms of life.
I invite you to use these behavioral expressions for each of the tasks as a checklist to decide whether you have grown up. Use them as an opportunity to acquire, deepen, and/or expand your behavioral repertoire–your way of being in this world. Find and enlist your allies along the way. Be mindful of your thoughts and purposeful in your actions. Become a beneficial presence.