Adult and Child Mindsets


As I continue to observe the human condition, I have noticed a pattern of being about which I feel moved to write. It is perhaps the fuel for on-going conflicts and wars and is most noticeable in the area of economics, politics and religion. It is a pattern that has been with us since we were little tykes. Think back to the conflicts you have witnessed between young children of the same family. While it is obvious that the children were feeling that they were seriously wronged in some way, the intervening adult often is coming from a perspective that the quarrel is petty, not out of disrespect to the children, but from an understanding of a bigger picture. In the heat of battle, the kids forget their underlying unity (their membership in the family or their friendship) and do what kids do best, isolate themselves from all others in their quest to satisfy their desires. This is most famously illustrated by the quotation shouted by most, if not every child, in his or her early years: “Mine!”

An adult’s solution to these conflicts is usually a command, reprimand, some kind of punishment or some reasoning. Whether the adult realizes it or not, what is being attempted in these solutions is to remind the parties in conflict that they are one, and that the harmony between them serves not only the best interest of each individual but the family/relationship as a whole. After all, I don’t know of anybody who likes to be in conflict or be around people in conflict, nor do I know anyone who does not like to be around people with whom they get along. The same principle applies in sports. Those teams that work in harmony together succeed; those teams that have infighting or have players that go to any length to make themselves look good, perform below par.

So what is this pattern that I have noticed that fuels conflicts and wars in the world? It is that some, if not all, people have not grown up emotionally and mentally in some aspects of their life. They do not yet recognize what is most important in any conflict: their underlying unity with humanity, life, the world and Universe. I want to emphasize here that I am not saying that it is “bad” to be a “child” and good to be an “adult”. Both have their place; each has advantages and disadvantages. They are what they are. We each have an inner child and inner adult and always have. Just like a sapling has a “blueprint” of the tree it is to become, children have a “blueprint” of the adult they are to become. Likewise, a full-grown tree has the experience of the sapling within it just as an adult has the experience of childhood within.

Given what I have observed, it is easy for me to envision world peace. Conflict may always exist as part of the human experience, but if we keep it at a personal level, war becomes impossible and overall peace can, therefore, be attained and preserved. But world peace truly begins within each individual. In my own life, I have noticed that I rarely get into conflicts with people because I have committed myself to acknowledging conflict when it occurs with another person, as well as within myself (i.e., when I feel “bad” about something). In addition, I am committed to master the ability to receive criticism and alternative ideas whenever they come without FEELING a need to defend my perspective or attacking others in retaliation (I must admit that this second commitment is easier said than done and I have fallen short occasionally, but so what).

I have found that to attain a state of peace within, I must embrace my “adultness”. This means taking full responsibility for how I act and react toward life events and personal encounters. It means claiming my own authority to discern what action to take in each moment to enhance the highest good. It means trusting the life process and trusting my abilities enough to act with courage when confronting fearful situations. Finally, it means I recognize the value of others and the value of whatever situation I experience. As one can see, claiming one’s adulthood is not to be taken lightly and it is clearly not appropriate for immature beings because children are not generally able to handle responsibility, discernment, and fearful situations, nor are they generally able to recognize the value of all people and things that life presents them. So, whenever one sees a person blame somebody else or blindly follow an external authority or fail to take appropriate action or promote the killing of people or other creatures (usually to preserve his way of being), one is likely witnessing the person acting as a child emotionally and mentally.

Carrying this further, an economic system that is dominated by a child mindset is one similar to what we have in the world today, where ownership is king (remember the child’s motto: “Mine!”), private property is defined and value is based on supply and demand, where it pays especially to have a scarce supply of something in high demand. Competition is encouraged in such an economy because the scarcity cannot support everyone. Only the “best” (i.e., the richest) are valued; the rest are left to live a life in misery or die.

On the other hand, an “adult economy”, which does not exist on any large scale as far as I know, would have instead of ownership and private property, the concept of “stewardship”, where resources are shared by all and used or cared for temporarily by individuals moment to moment. Such a system would require fewer resources to produce what is needed because adults generally feel no need to have exclusive rights to, say, an automobile. In the adult economy, cooperation would be king and as a result, everyone would be able to experience a sense of abundance, even with scarce resources!

A political system that is dominated by a child mindset exists throughout the most of the world in various forms. One characteristic of this system is the role of the “surrogate parent”. The surrogate parent may be a monarch or a dictator or an elected government (all of these are composed of “children” acting as parents, in reality). The purpose of the surrogate parent is to create rules for its “children” (i.e., the common people) to follow and punishes those who break the rules. It also has a judicial system in place to resolve internal conflicts (i.e., judges are surrogate parents telling the “children” who see them how to resolve their conflict). Typically, the letter of the law is upheld, rather than the spirit of the law (If there even is a spirit of the law! Laws are frequently made to favor a few, rather than the many). Another characteristic of a “child political system” is that it tends to divide the world up into regions (e.g., nations or states) in which each region has little interest in another’s well-being. As a result, land grabs and wars are common as the regions involved compete to maximize their dominance in the world or local area.

On the other hand, an “adult political system”, which does not exist on any large scale as far as I know, would have instead of a government that serves as a surrogate parent, an institution that brings adult stewards together in councils to work to manage a high quality of life for all. I see these councils embracing the true spirit of democracy, where everyone is valued, not just those with political or economic power. Actually, placing political or economic power in the hands of one or a few people would be non-sensical in such a system. In addition, while it is conceivable that the world would be divided up into regions in a world dominated by an adult political system, these regions would be for resource management purposes only. People would be free to travel from place to place as long as a region could handle the influx. It would be a given that travelers would gladly make a contribution to a region’s well-being if they were not just passing through.

Finally, I would like to look at spirituality. While I do not consider myself a religious scholar, I have examined a number of religions in the books and “out in the field”. What I have found so far is that they all have the same essence. Namely, at an abstract level, all religions say that we are all connected in one grand unity (however it is labeled) and at the practical level this is often expressed as something like “treat others in the same manner that you would like to be treated”. This is also true for people like myself who practice no religion but subscribe to their own personal brand of spirituality. So, while the essences of all religions appear to be the same, their expressions and practices are quite different. I view these differences to be like costumes. That is, regardless of what costume a person wears, the essence of that person stays the same.

I have noticed, then, quite a number of people who have demonstrated what a “child spirituality”. This is where the costume becomes more important than the person wearing it, as it were. It is seen when one separates their spirituality from their daily life. They go to church/mosque/temple every week and perform all the rituals prescribed by their leaders or scriptures, they contribute financially to the institution, in order to look good in the public eye or feel like they are a good person, but, in reality, they have no clue as to how those actions really will improve their lives, but they might tell themselves to “just have faith” anyway.

Those who practice an “adult spirituality”, if they practice a religion at all, understand the religion’s essence and live it every moment, to the best of their ability. They are genuinely enhanced by the deep meaning of their particular scriptures and rituals. They contribute to their institution (or world) not to look good or just feel good but out of an understanding that their institution (or world) is valuable and that they have a personal responsibility to nurture it. A person who practices adult spirituality honors others whose practice looks different from his. He has no need to convert anyone because (to use the costume analogy again) there is no costume better than another. Above all, he ultimately recognizes his own connection to God (or whatever he calls that grand unity). He needs no intermediary, be it a person (e.g., a priest) or scripture, although people and writings can certainly assist in deepening his connection.

While I have sketched out a vision for an “adult world” in this article, it is not for any of us to know how such a world would come into being. It is each person’s responsibility to know herself and therefore, know what she can contribute in each moment. That is enough work for any person to handle in a lifetime, and it is through these collective efforts that we can co-create a better world that works for all!

Peace out!

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6 thoughts on “Adult and Child Mindsets

  1. Hi Pete. I enjoy your blogs, and you are a very good writer!

    There were a few items in your blog that make me want to comment and share what I think.

    First of all, with regard to peace within, it is and always has been my goal to achieve the ‘peace that surpasses all understanding’. And I believe that most religions seek this out.

    While children can certainly be self-centered as they often have not yet developed beyond that, I would like to comment about a ‘child vs. adult’ perspective on the world. I think that if we were more like children (ie: the good in children), our world would be a much more peaceful place in which to live. The children in my classroom resolve conflicts easily and understand sharing and helpfulness toward others with my modeling of this and guidance. Adults tend to mess things up and make them more complicated. It is my experience that adults are way more self-centered and ‘mine’ focused than children.

    With regard to religion and spirituality, you know that I am a Christian. I whole-heartedly defend everyone’s right to practice whatever religion works for them. However, one thing that bothers me is when people attack certain religions (you did not—this is just on my mind). I believe there is no need to attack someone’s beliefs if one has a firm grasp and total faith in theirs. For example, atheists tend to attack, for the most part, Christians. Why? And in the news, it’s almost always Christians. Most the time, when we attack someone or something, it’s because it’s threatening. Christianity and most spirituality, other religions are based in peace, as you said. There is no need for attack. I have total faith in my religion, so no one else’s threatens me in the least. I do believe, however, that everyone should have a firm commitment in whatever they believe. There is a country/western song that has a line in it that says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Good to remember.

    I do disagree with your thoughts on religious institutions. Being made up of humans, any institution is open to corruptness and those who don’t follow it very well; however, I know a lot of people who do their very best to adhere to theirs, give money to the church out of willingness to help others, and to further their walk with God through readings and fellowship.

    If you believe in God, one thing a lot of people miss when they go to their place of worship is that they are there to worship, not for their own purposes. I pray in order to know God better and know his ‘voice’ on my heart. That is my perspective, of course. A lot of my spirituatlity is based on wanting to please God and obey Him. Again, “wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’. 🙂

    As always, you offer ‘food for thought’ and I appreciate the intellectual stimulation. That’s hard to find these days!

    Peace be with you, as well.

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    • Thank you, Maria, for the complements and another great presentation of your perspective.

      I agree that most religions seek out the “peace that surpasses all understanding”. I admit that during the composition of this article, I probably missed other concepts that are common to religions.

      I am glad you mentioned about the good aspects about the child mindset because the world would be a better place, indeed, if we all embraced these. It is an unfortunate consequence of my choosing to use the terms “child mindset” and “adult mindset” that children come off looking like the “Devil’s henchmen”. Perhaps, it would have been better to use more abstract terms that cannot be attached to any group of people. Nevertheless, your example of selfless children and selfish adults illustrate that people of all ages have the ability to express themselves in a way that is opposite their biological age (implying my terms).

      I am puzzled about your disagreement with my thoughts on religious institutions. Your example of “people who do their very best…” seems to match what I was saying in my “adult spirituality” paragraph. Please explain.

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  2. I was referring to your writing about the ‘costume’ and how many people go through the motions at their place of worship, clueless as to what they are supposed to do with it when they leave (I added the part about corruptness). Two lives are lived. I’m far from perfect, and fall short every day, but I try so hard to live my faith, to blend the imperfect with the perfect. I haven’t always. It comes with maturity and the realization of our mortality, I believe, as well as that “there’s GOT to be something more than this” feeling.

    After rereading your blog, I see that we do agree with regard to those who ‘get it’ and those who do not. It’s sad when what is learned is not then applied in our lives. I’ve always tried to be a good person, but it wasn’t until the past few years have I totally understood how to connect my religion to the world beyond the sanctuary. And, the very word ‘sanctuary’ now means to me exactly what it is. I find peace and safety there. And while I am surrounded by the ‘body of Christ’ as we say about those around us, I am also very aware of a closeness and connection to God that I feel is so intimate and undetectable by others.

    Many churches close the service with, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” I feel that way when I leave. I stive to serve him by being patient, kind, understanding, loving, nurturing, and accepting of my students, as I feel that is my ‘calling’. Even though some can be a ‘thorn in my side’, and Lord knows I’ve had trying years, I try to see what their parents see in them, and enjoy what they have to bring to our class. I try to remember that they are all children of God, just as I am. The same in his eyes. I look at it as a privilege to get to know them and spend time together. I am with them more than their parents are, usually. I fall short of what I know I want to be, but I think I get closer every year. I know that the best way to show the stength in my faith is through example, and like you mentioned, loving my neighbor as myself. That’s another subject…learning to love self! That’s another good blog topic!

    The hard part for me has been discovering that as I strengthen my relationship with God, I realize that we live in what the Jerry Seinfeld show deemed as, “opposite world”. I don’t think this is how he meant it, however! Nevertheless, it’s hard to live in this world and have the knowledge of what you are created to be like. Not everyone knows, and I envy that ignorance at times, because it’s not always easy to live the opposite of the world. To live the opposite is to be humble and quiet, peaceful and understanding for starters. I could go on and on. It’s the conflict between the former life and the new life when one has that moment of epiphany. There is a Contemporary Christian record label called “In It, Not Of It”. That says it all, I think. And you don’t have to be a Christian to understand that and believe it.

    One of Jesus’ followers, the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:15-20:

    “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is the sin living in me that does it.”

    Tnis passage always cracks me up! Seriously. Perhaps this is where the phrase, “The Devil Make Me Do It” came from!! You have to be pretty sharp just to figure out what he’s saying. It’s like the “Who’s on First” shtick. But it’s so true. Once you know what you are supposed to be doing and why, it’s often a struggle within to do or not do certain things. And we all have our ‘things’. One’s is easier than another’s. But, one thing I do know for sure, is that the minute one chooses to do something or say something, they know immediately if it was the right thing to do or not, sociopaths aside.

    Now, you have to believe in Heaven and Hell to go along with this, but I heard a preacher say one time when explaining that all sin begins with a thought followed by an action, that by blaming the devil for one’s sin is futile. That going to Hell and saying, “You made me do it!” will be the ultimate level of frustration when the reply is, “I did nothing other than give you the idea. You were the one who acted on it.” Interesting, if nothing else.

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    • Good! I suspected that there was a misunderstanding, rather than a true disagreement.

      I think you are right in that another blog may be brewing here. We’ll see where the “blog winds” blow in coming days. Actually, I was thinking that you may have already written a blog in your reply, given the incredible substance it has! 🙂

      Thank you for your continued example and support. I am a better person for it, Maria!

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