The word, maturity, seems to be the most dignifying word used by members of the prestigious cult of adulthood. Sometimes, it is used as though it is a prize that all adult humans should aspire to. They will not be able to illustrate anything effectively unless they fling that word at you. Sometimes, they do this unconsciously, flooding you with all kinds of emotions, the principal of which is guilt.
But then, you sit back to ask yourself what exactly this word maturity is, what people mean when they tell others to be mature. Is maturity universal? Can it be said to be subjective? Is it something we should model our lives on or are there other important virtues we need to imbibe? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
A good place to begin will be to look at the word maturity and see how society has come to conceptualize it. A simple definition – maturity is the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner – is what the Wikipedia offers. This definition suggests appropriateness of action. In other words, understand where you are and act according to the accepted ways of conduct in such context(s). Meaning that, acceptable ways of being or behaviour is predetermined by someone or some people. Society maybe. Or culture. Or religion. Or people. Or, what else have you?
Little wonder why our Nigerian people have taken this word and beaten it into a shape of many rough edges that has now been pushed into our faces. You do not marry at a certain age, you are not being mature. You dress in certain ways, you are not being mature. You eat certain foods, you are not being mature. You laugh and talk in a certain way, you are the most immature human being on the face of the earth. Another way of saying you are not mature, which is basically a more glorified way of conveying your inadequate grasp of such “majestic” adultlife-coping mechanism, is to say that you are being childish, whatever that means. They will look at you, a full-grown thirty-something thing of a man or woman, and they will say you are behaving like a child. Interesting.
Nigerians, as they are wont, have since established their own standards for benchmarking maturity and for determining what makes the pass mark of the maturity index and what doesn’t. And you will do well to align yourself properly to those standards, else be ready to deal with the humiliation and discomfort of finding yourself an outlier.
Let’s talk about marriage, for instance, this beautiful union that should ordinarily be between two consenting and ready adults. People should normally get married because they are ready, when they are ready; not because they are being pressured by their parents or friends or people who have refused to mind their own lives, because of age or money or whatever reasons these people may put forward. But no, Nigerians will bring out their registers and tell you when it is your age or your turn to get married. They will practically count your age mates and your peers and tell you that time is no longer on your side and they will harass you until you finally give in. Once you get married, they will put their mouths inside their pockets, finally realizing that they have to mind their businesses, and nobody will care to know what you do with your marriage. They will desert you, after they have made sure to drum into your ears that what you need to survive in marriage is MATURITY, never mind you may not be ready or prepared to put up with another human for the rest of your life.
Okay. Let’s now leave that and come to a more interesting matter. Social media. People write and post things that matter to them – texts, pictures, fragments of their daily lives – as they so wish and sometimes they are shunned. They are shamed. They are called immature. Nobody is trying to explain to them why it is important to observe the right degree of privacy on social media because of the dangers inherent in the nature of the media itself or about the self-esteem issues that come with constantly seeking approval from other people who barely know them and thus do not have the adequate amount of information to be able to provide a balanced judgment. No. Nobody is trying to present such argument. What you rather see people do is to call them childish. And immature, as though maturity is a gold medal and the only way of being.
Who defines what maturity is and what maturity is not? Who says it is okay to carry myself in a certain way, even though it makes me uncomfortable, just so I would be seen as mature and responsible? Who says it is right to do things I don’t want to do because society has stipulated what maturity is and how mature people should behave and cajoles me into accepting to model my life according to those standards? Does this society know that there exists what you call outliers? Is it for my own good and the benefit of the others to have my life distorted and my behaviour shamed when I do not fit into a certain mold? We fail to understand that as a people, that there are many things that maturity cannot do for us. Maturity does not necessarily guarantee happiness. It does not guarantee success or a glorious life after our time here on earth. It guarantees only that the status quo be preserved in the society, according to the dictates of some people who have assumed the positions of lords and masters.
What if, instead of expecting maturity of people, we allow them to be themselves, completely themselves? What if we stopped shaming people outrightly for being their truest possible selves and rather explain, with clarity and precision, what we think about them and why we think behaving a certain way that we suggest may be better? What if we taught them courage, the inner strength to truly live and be free and responsible for their actions? What if we all lived courageous lives, doing things because we want to do them, because we really want to do them, not just because someone else says that is how things should be done? What if we live our lives asking the right questions and doing the right things?