When Did Maturity Become a Bad Word?

The teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School did not set out to become famous. Sometimes history forces us into positions we did not seek. We have no way of knowing if in time they will fade into oblivion or become leaders. Will they emerge from this experience with new strength of character or will they wilt from this trial? Will they continue to uphold the morals and values of their families or will they succumb to the lure of easy acceptance for those who kowtow to popular culture’s sacred icons? We cannot predict their futures any more than we can predict our own children’s or even our own.

What we can know is that they are growing up in a world that no longer values the idea of maturity. The word itself has become a buzzword for old age with all its negative connotations rather than a desired step of growth. For younger people, it has been replaced by ‘adulting,’ a word that implies tentative, halting steps to being responsible for oneself rather than a solidifying of one’s character and moral backbone.   

Maturity, in its positive sense, comes slowly. Starting at birth we take teensy steps on that path. One of the first signs is when a baby begins to anticipate what is coming. From their first moments out of the womb infants cry when they wake up hungry, oblivious to the mothers rushing into their room and rearranging their clothing in preparation for nursing. At some easy to miss point, not that far down the road, those same babies are soothed just by seeing and hearing their mothers.

We carry on from there, learning to anticipate what will come and, ever so slowly, we strengthen the muscles that allow us to work towards a goal, to value future success over present satisfaction, and to react with wisdom rather than reflex. We learn to consider others rather than focus only on ourselves, to weigh new ideas and to go beyond visceral responses. We mature. As we do so, we become assets to our families, communities and nations.

Occasionally in sad cases, old age can mean a return to a childhood lack of control. It can be shattering to see the parent who represented security and protection become a querulous and demanding individual as illness ravages his body and mind. While the parent is still alive, mourning for that parent already begins.

Looking at this week’s news made me realize that much of our society is trying to do away with those productive years between infancy and the most negative stereotypes of old age. We have already accepted that many of the years that used to be spent in working hard and establishing marriages and families are now often an extension of adolescence. As the news cycle shows, people in positions who used to be respected such as journalists and politicians, increasingly see their roles as shouting out whatever comes into their prejudiced minds rather than researching, analyzing and gathering information.

Instead of caring for others, we act as if we are the only important ones. If something —or someone (even a defenseless baby)—makes us uncomfortable, we lash out at them, verbally or physically. When an idea contradicts our preconceived notions, we shut it down. We demand the power of government to support our parochialism and express our hatred. We pontificate simplistic and foolish answers, ignorant of history’s lessons. Our own comfort is all that matters and too many elevated to leadership are dazed at their own (non-existent) brilliance.

Watching so many politicians, lawmakers, teachers, journalists and others in positions of power behave like infants and toddlers is disturbing. When a  two-year-old thrashes about in a temper tantrum, she can be protected from harming himself and others. When a twenty-five or forty-year-old thrashes about in a tantrum, she can incite a mob. Social media exponentially expands the power of destruction. 

The boys from Covington Catholic High School were the victims of one of society’s increasingly common temper tantrums. My prayer is that the experience add to their maturity and development as men who, in the words of  Rudyard Kipling “…being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating…” I hope it coats them with protective armor that leads them to reject the temptations of superficiality, fake virtue and arrogance that, sadly, are the examples being set for them by those who should have been their role models.

24 thoughts on “When Did Maturity Become a Bad Word?”

    1. Carl, the rapidity of the decay is what astounds me. Changes that used to take decades are now taking place over the course of a few months.

  1. Carmine Pescatore

    Truth has no agenda, people do. There were three groups present. One was there to cause trouble. The MAGA hats were a magnet for the two arguing groups to attack. When you see the time line and ALL the videos, the boys were innocent.

    1. Carmine, have you heard those who are arguing that the videos are irrelevant because the boys’ backgrounds and beliefs mean more than what happened? Alice in Wonderland territory.

  2. One of my favorite scriptures: He has shone thee oh man what is good, and what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with thy G-d.

  3. Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (a.k.a. Mumbai), India, and he wrote endearingly and sometimes alarmingly of European and Asian cultures in intersection and conflict. Though he was long vilified as an English ‘jingoist,’ in my own humble opinion unjustly so, he delivered many jewels of wisdom. A very wise English teacher introduced us to his poem ‘If,’ which exhorts us to remain true to the path of virtue.
    So many of the lines of this fine poem apply to this situation, also:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you

    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools

    If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue (Echoes of Psalm 1!)

    Sean Hannity warned us back in ca. 2008 that journalism was dead. And now irrational hatred has gained a strong foothold, inspired by a blind rush to premature judgment, thanks to the Almighty Internet, the world’s greatest gossip column, and thanks to electronic media. We witness here the dark underbelly of technology. Caveat inventor: any useful tool that Man invents can be turned to evil uses.

  4. The news media has shown appalling tendencies. My heart goes out to the attentive parents trying to teach their young men truth and valor. Tgey have all been attacked by vehement aggressors for wrong rather than truth. Shame on the news media!

    1. Joanie, I think we need a new term for them because one thing they do not do is report news. They manufacture it, they present their opinions, they do lots of things, but honest journalism isn’t one of them.

    1. When Springer first came on the air, there were many people who said his program would “coarsen the culture.” They were 100 percent right – the “reality / shock talk show” normalized what was otherwise considered aberrant, childish, immature and trashy behavior.

      1. Jean, one of the conversations I’d like to hear is the one where those upset at President Trump’s vulgarity explain why they championed vulgarity for the past few decades, and indeed, champion it liberals in music lyrics and comedy routines still today.

  5. In my opinion, the only people acting with any maturity were the young men from Covington Catholic High School. After asking permission, they chanted school cheers so they did not have to listen to the vitriolic hatred being spewed at them. When the native American invaded their space they calmly stood their ground and did not engages, but tried to project a pleasant smiling image, not one of hate or fear or aggression. I applaud the young man whose face is now all over the news. He is my hero. He did his best in a really rotten situation.

  6. Not only is maturity no longer seen as a goal – the concept of being ladylike or gentlemanly seems to have been discarded. I would enjoy reading the Rabbi’s and your thoughts on behaving as a lady or gentleman.

    1. I was talking last night to a friend who taught for many years, Betsy, and she was saying how she used to address her high school students as ‘ladies and gentlemen.” This was maybe fifteen years ago – and it would no longer be allowed, let alone accepted in most schools.

  7. Each of my kids received a framed copy of Rudyard Kipling’s “If” upon graduation…it says all that needs to be said on the subject What a beautifully and poignant piece you write today, Susan. Thank you for sharing your anguish with each of us who have so much angst about the state of a society that prided itself on reaching maturity not that long ago. As we head at high speed into a buzz saw I pray that bona fide leadership can avert disaster. God bless. K

  8. I hate the word, “adulting”; it comes across as something someone might tentatively do, if they’re feeling capable that day. It’s just not a verb. For both my boy’s 18th birthdays, I made an “Adult Certificate” with a golden seal and my signature. They thought it was a little corny, but they knew that was what I expected them to be.

    1. Cindy, I also think it’s a terrible word. You see things like #adulting – did my own laundry. My kids did their own laundry from about the age of ten. They had more important things to learn when they became adults.

  9. I have come to think that true maturity has always been a very rare thing. As a Baby Boomer, I grew up admiring the WWII generation, and seeing them portrayed in TV and movies and books. But, and I really hate to say this, it became clear that in many cases the ‘greatest generation’ often did not mature beyond the time of their induction into the services. War does that. So now, we have generations of children raised by generations of children. Most societies used to have some form of an introduction to adulthood ceremony–the Bar Mitzvah is something like that. Now, these are mocked, if not called ‘childhood abuse’.
    We have only so much life and life energy, but without true, mature parents and mentors, we have to use up much of our lives growing and learning what should have been shown us while we are young.

    1. I don’t know, CK. Certainly, war leaves an imprint, but I think most of the WWII soldiers came home, married and held steady jobs. They each had individual flaws, but as a generation I think they showed maturity.

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