Cultural Maturity

The concept of Cultural Maturity describes how the future will require not just new ideas, but a fundamentally greater sophistication in how we think, act, and relate. It addresses what that new and greater sophistication involves, what it will ask of us, and also how it might be possible. The changes it describes impact how we think and act in every part of our lives, from the most personal questions of identity and relationship to broadly encompassing concerns of effective governance and global well-being.

We tend to think of the Modern Age institutions and ways of thinking as end points and ideals—that at best they need further refinement. The concept of Cultural Maturity describes how familiar institutions and ways of thinking can’t be end points if our future is to be at all bright. It also describes how further chapters in our human story are predicted—and happening.

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.

We can use events happening in other parts of the world  today to put the concept if Cultural Maturity in historical perspective.  When we look to the best of changes in the Middle East, for example, we get that what we see is change of a “developmental” sort, that 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.

The concept of Cultural Maturity can be applied as a general, stand-alone notion or as highly detailed formulation within Creative Systems Theory, a comprehensive framework for understanding change and interrelationship in humans systems developed by Charles Johnston and colleagues over the last thirty years. 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. It also 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.

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, are possible and happening.

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.

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.