Cultural Maturity—General Concept

The concept of Cultural Maturity can be applied as a general, stand-alone notion or as highly detailed formulation within Creative Systems Theory. Briefly summarized, the concept of Cultural Maturity describes how our times require of us a critical “growing up” as a species. It proposes that without this essential next steps in our human development, a future rife with significant disorientation and anguish becomes a very real possibility. It also proposes that with these needed steps, we should be able increasingly to make choices that can take us forward in life-affirming ways. And it describes how this needed new maturity in how we think and act is not just possible, but predicted, if we can bring the needed courage and commitment to bear.

Much of Cultural Maturity’s power as a concept comes from its simplicity once it is sufficiently understood. But understanding requires a stretch and the concept is easily initially confused with much that it is not at all about. The concept of Cultural Maturity starts with the recognition that culture’s guiding rules on most all fronts—clear moral codes, tight bonds in community, unswerving nationalistic allegiances—are becoming less and less reliable. Our times are challenging us to step beyond the comforting surety of familiar cultural guideposts to take a new maturity of responsibility in the choices we both in our daily lives and as cultural beings.

But the challenge is deeper. Questions of all sorts are requiring a greater complexity and maturity of thought than required in times past. The task is more than just some post-modern surrendering of past sureties. The future requires that we act from a mature fullness of perspective and think and act with a dynamism and systemic subtlety not before ours to entertain.

The recognition that our times require new things of us is not by itself radical. Cultural Maturity-related changes have informed the best of practices and the best of thinking for quite some time. But the recognition of just how deeply new the needed new skills and capacities are is radical–like water to fish we can miss their full significance. More radical still is the observation what might seem like very different needed new capacities directly relate one to another.  They come together as expressions of Cultural Maturity’s needed new chapter in our human story.

The concept of Cultural Maturity helps us in three primary ways. First, it provides a new guiding narrative in a time when stories we’ve traditionally relied on—from the American Dream to our various political and religious allegiances—serve us less and less well. Second, it identifies needed new skills and capacities that we can practice. Deeply understanding these new skills and abilities also helps us not misconstrue what our times ask of us (it helps us separate the wheat from the chaff in our thinking). Third, the concept of Cultural Maturity helps us develop the more sophisticated conceptual tools the future will increasingly require. (Cultural Maturity involves not just new ideas, but new ways of thinking—specific cognitive changes. Understanding those cognitive changes helps us develop new kinds of conceptual frameworks.)

We are often in denial about the magnitude of the challenges we face today. Or if we begin to step beyond denial, we become vulnerable to either hopeless and cynicism or naive wishful thinking, whether of the techno-utopian or spiritual easy answer sort. The concept of Cultural Maturity makes clear that effectively addressing today’s new challenges will stretch us profoundly. But it also offers both authentic hope and concrete guidance as we look to the future.

Events happening in other parts of the world, today, help put the concept of Culturla Maturity in perspective.  When we look to the best of changes in the Middle East, for example, we recognize that what we see is change of a “developmental” sort. The gradual emergence of more democratic principles represents progression from one chapter in culture’s story to another. Yet, curiously, we tend assume that modern western assumptions represent an end point, this in spite of how many of our institutions are failing at the tasks for which they were designed. The concept of Cultural describes how our current chapter in culture’s story can’t be an end point, and how we are already beginning to move beyond it.

Cultural Maturity is not as easy a notion as the simple phrase “growing up” might suggest. But most of us get—whether consciously or not—that something like what the concept of Cultural Maturity describes will be necessary. Certainly, we appreciate that a sane and healthy future will require that at least we be more intelligent in our choices. We recognize that dealing with nuclear proliferation in an ever more technologically complex and globally interconnected world will be very difficult unless we can bring greater insight to how we humans relate. Similarly, people recognize that addressing the energy crisis, or environmental concerns more generally, will demand a newly sophisticated engagement of hard realities. People’s more immediate frustrations also show a beginning appreciation of the need for greater maturity. With growing frequency, people today respond with disgust—appropriately—at the common childishness of political debate, and at how rarely the media appeal to more than adolescent impulses.

And most of us also recognize something further. We appreciate that it is essential, given the magnitude and the subtlety of the challenges we face and the potential consequences of our decisions, that our choices be not just intelligent, but wise. Cultural Maturity is about realizing the greater nuance and depth of understanding—we could say wisdom—that human concerns of every sort today demand of us.

We get a first glimpse of Cultural Maturity, certainly its necessity, with the recognition that human culture in times past has functioned like a parent in the lives of individuals. It has provided us with our rules to live by, and, in the process, a sense of identity and connectedness with other. Such cultural absolutes have also protected us from life’s very real uncertainties and immense complexities. In today’s increasingly multi-faceted world, such guideposts serve us less and less well. The implications of this loss are Janus-faced—at once it brings disturbing absence and possibility. Combined with how our world has become more risk-filled and complicated, this weakening of familiar rules can leave us dangerously overwhelmed and disoriented. And at the same time it reveals options that before could not have been considered.

Importantly, this is not just new possibility in some “anything-goes” sense. More than just a loss of guideposts is involved.  The concept of Cultural Maturity describes how the “growing up” that generates today’s loss of past absolutes also creates the potential for new, more mature ways of understanding and relating. It involves specific cognitive changes that offer the possibility of more systemic and complete ways of being in and making sense of our worlds. Culturally mature perspective helps us make sense of the easily confusing times in which we live. It also helps clarify the human tasks before us and the capacities needed to engage them successfully. And it points toward needed changes not just in what we understand, but how we understand.

We can get to the concept of Cultural Maturity in three different ways each of which provides its particular perspective. First, we can look at the new, increasingly God-like challenges before us and examine the capacities they will require if we are to address them effectively. The second way applies developmental perspective. Creative Systems Theory describes how we find direct parallels between the challenges we confront in our times and those those presented by the tasks of second-half-of-life maturity in individual development (and ultimately in second-half developmental tasks in formative processes of all sorts). The third approach is cognitive. Creative Systems Theory describes how we can understand all of Cultural Maturity’s changes in terms of a developmentally predicted process of cognitive reorganization. With the resulting “Integrative Meta-perspective,” both more systemic understanding and more mature ways of acting and relating come to seem like common sense. (See Cultural Maturity’s Cognitive Reordering.)

In the end, the concept of Cultural Maturity is about leadership, though this in a particular sense. Its concern is not just good leadership, but the specific kind of leadership the future will require. It also about leadership understood most expansively. It is about what the future demands of all of us—personally and in associations small and large. What it entails is pertinent to leading nations or organizations, but just as much it concerns making good choices as lovers, friends, or parents. Ultimately, it is about leadership in the choices we make as a species.

The concept of Cultural Maturity is not easy in what it asks of us. For most people, understanding requires surrendering assumptions (often favorite ones). It means stretching sufficiently that one can tolerate the more nuanced and complex world the culturally mature perspective reveals. And it means being open not just to fresh perspective, but thinking in unfamiliar ways.

But, at the same time, there are ways in which Cultural Maturity is a simple concept. In the sense that we can apply it to all sorts of questions across domains of culture, it is a single brushstroke notion. And, while historical and philosophical perspective helps, in the end it doesn’t require extensive intellectual understanding. It is less about particular beliefs, than the about the ability to get our arms around and tolerate a less certain, but ultimate more creative and complete, kind of reality—to hold experience with a more mature fullness. When we are able to do this, Cultural Maturity becomes common sense. The difference is just that this is a sort of common sense that we are only now becoming capable of.

If the concept of Cultural Maturity is accurate, its changes will define our core human task over the next twenty to fifty years. If we don’t make a good start with the “growing up” it describes during that time, we will pay a very high price. In the end, it defines humanities defining task far into the future. And, while it may stretch us to fully grasp, in the end, it defines today’s core task. The most important questions before us require culturally mature perspective not just is we are to effectively answer, but just if we are to understand them in ultimately useful ways.