Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The call of mature

A follow-up of sorts to yesterday's post (not really, but what the hell):

What, exactly, is the deal with this whole maturity thing? People are always telling me to grow up, be more mature (it's been the constant plaint of everyone I've ever dated, for example - I'm convinced that there are certified courses out there that will teach any prospective girlfriend of mine how to say / imply that I'm immature in 563 different ways; boy, they must be short of business) - as though becoming more mature were like buying a car or leasing a house - one of those things where you sign on the dotted line and you're done. Would someone care to define for me what exactly maturity consists of? How is it measured? How can it be tested empirically? What precisely does it mean?

People will tell you that maturity is about looking at the big picture, being able to see what's important, what matters, being able to prioritise. What they really mean, though, is prioritising what they think is important, what they think matters. It's always seemed to me that maturity is just a fancy word for whether someone agrees with you or not. It's always easier, when faced with someone who has a different point of view, to undermine their credibility by accusing them of being immature, rather than acknowledging their point of view for what it is and then trying to reconcile / argue out your differences.

Take a simple example. Say you were married to someone and you found out that they'd mutilated one of your books. Say they'd scribbled all over it, or had torn some pages out or had used it as a coaster and ended up spilling water on it. Would this be sufficient grounds for divorce? (I don't mean that legally - just conceptually) Or would it be 'immature' of you to get hot and bothered over a book, breaking up what is arguably the most important relationship of your life? "It's just a book", people will tell you, "what's the big deal. Grow up." Now consider the case where you're married to someone and you find out they've been sleeping with someone else. Is that sufficient grounds for divorce? Let's say they refuse to be nice to your family. Is that sufficient grounds?[1]

Most people, I suspect, would argue that the latter two cases are valid reasons to end a marriage, but the damaged book is not. I disagree. Respect for books is important to me - they're pretty much the only thing in the world I do respect - so I would rather live with adultery or with asocial behaviour than live with someone who I can't trust to take care of my books[2]. Does this make me immature? And if so, why? I'm not saying you have to agree with my prioritisation - I'm only saying that that's what matters to me. What's so special about some values, some beliefs, that makes them more mature than others?

I'm not saying that disagreements aren't a problem. Clearly if you're married to someone and you think books matter and they think sexual exclusivity does, you've got something you need to work out. My point is simply that it needs to be a working out between equals - a negotiation that recognises the claims of both points of view. To simply say that the other person is immature may be, ironically enough, the most immature argument of all.

[1] For the purposes of the thought experiment, assume that this is the only problem you have and everything else is fine and you're really happy in every other way. Obviously, this is likely to be untrue since these actions are likely to be symptoms of a graver malaise, but assume for the sake of the argument that there's no such signalling value. Oh, also, I'm not saying that a divorce is the first or only option you should try, just whether, all else failing, it would make sense.

[2] By implication, actually trusting someone else with my books is as close to a declaration of love as I can get. Mom, Dad, the next time you complain about how I keep buying more books and leave them all back in India for you to take care of, think about that.


Jabberwock said...

But what happens if you find the person you’re married to sleeping with one of your books? Would that be sufficient grounds for murder? (conceptually, not illegally)

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Respect for books just like respect for all mutual values should be sorted (ideally, of course) before any marriage takes place. But then I guess surprises are possible.

To me this line sums it up:

" needs to be a working out between equals.."

Falstaff said...

Jabberwock: Depends on the book. On the whole, I'd go the other way - anyone that passionate about books is someone I want to stay married to. And there's always threesomes.

AFJ: I think surprises are actually important in themselves, just to keep the excitement going. But only within reasonable limits, of course. You don't want to marry someone and then find out they are passionate about Dan Brown

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