Tuesday, August 13, 2013


What do I know about maturity? Well, depending on who you ask, probably not a lot.

But one thing I have been thinking a lot about lately is the whole concept of maturity. As you may guess, not only am I watching my little son, 8-years old for now, growing up, but I am also looking at Ruhi Book 5 again. There are so many quotes in there about the importance of this particular stage of human development.

'Abdu'l-Baha talks about how the period of youth, beginning around the age of 15, is "characterized by strength and vigor and stands out as the choicest time in human life". He points out that it is at this time in our life that our "former conditions and needs are superseded by new requirements". Our "faculties of observation are broadened and deepened". Our "intelligent capacities are trained and awakened, the limitations and environment of childhood no longer restrict" us. He says that when we reach this stage in our development we acquire "the capacity to manifest spiritual and intellectual perfections."

The Guardian "centers all his hopes for the future progress and expansion of the Cause" on these youth. Interestingly enough, he also lays on their shoulders "the responsibility for the upkeep of the spirit of selfless service among their fellow believers." Quite the responsibility that.

The Guardian goes on to list a number of qualities they posses that "make them potent instruments for the execution of the contemplated projects", qualities such as "vitality and vigor", "their ability to adapt themselves to local situations, to meet new challenges, and to impart their warmth and enthusiasm to those they visit". He also says that the important aspect of this time is that "the mind is most questing and that the spiritual values that will guide the person's future behaviour are adopted."

It truly is a very important time of one's life, even though it is of such short duration.

Modern science is also recognizing the importance of this time. For years advertisers knew the importance of this focus group, but didn't necessarily know why. We have now discovered that the brain itself if basically being "re-wired" at this time. Those centers of the brain that guided our emotions shift to new areas of the brain. Old paths give way to new ones. Whole sections of the brain that were inactive now turn on and take over higher functions of activity. Things that we were incapable of perceiving now come into view, and we seek to understand more. Questions that we could not even conceive of just a few years, if not months, ago come into our mind fully formed.

As a parent, I have learned that I can give most any explanation to my son and he will generally accept it as true, mainly because I have earned that trust. (Well, at least he knows when I'm only joking.) Complex questions can be answered with facile responses, which will satisfy for now, but in just a few years time he will want to know the deeper answers. When he asked me about where babies come from I was able to talk about the love between my wife and I and how we get together, each contributing a cell, to form a new life. I am certain that he will later ask about how it is that we "get together", and will probably want to know about DNA and all that other stuff, too. For now, though, that's too complicated.

When he asks me these questions later, seeking the deeper understanding, even though the facile response is true, I will need to remember that he is not questioning me, or my response, nor is he, God forbid, attacking me in his search for a better understanding of the world. No. He is, and will be, asking deep felt questions in his attempt to understand the world around him.

It is at that time, those precious few years during which his body, as well as his mind, matures, that I will most need to respond to his questions in a loving, honest and truthful manner. If I fail in this, it is only too obvious that I will no longer have earned his trust. It is through this failure, through responding to requests for information with such poor responses as, "Because I said so", or other domineering answers, that I have seen more teens rebel against both their parents and society in general. But when the responses are there, when the information is provided, then the trust has been earned, and the love blossoms ever greater.

Another aspect of the maturity that bears mentioning is the ability to think along broader lines. A youth, or young adult, has the wonderful ability to think laterally in a more natural way. As we get older, our ability to do this wanes. As one researcher said, "As we get older, it is like looking at the world through a straw."

But this is not what I wanted to talk about today.

No. What I wanted to talk about today was another concept of maturity: that of the maturing of the human race.

While many of us talk about the maturation of humanity, and the coming of age of the human race, have we ever given a lot of thought about what that means? I know I haven't, at least not beyond the concept of making better decisions as a species, or it being the reason for such a powerful Revelation as we have found in that of Baha'u'llah. In fact, I haven't even given much thought about where it says in the Writings that we have achieved this momentous stage in our development.

But fear not, dear Reader, Baha'u'llah did say that humanity has "attained the stage of maturity". (Really. He did. Right there in Gleanings number 33.) (You're welcome, o ye readers who regularly request the source.)

'Abdu'l-Baha takes this concept and gives us a bit more of a vision of what it means: "That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race could neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day and period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former degrees of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moralities, new capacities. New bounties, bestowals and perfections are awaiting and already descending upon him."

The Guardian, as we would expect, takes the same concept and further elucidates it for us. "The long ages of infancy and childhood, through which the human race had to pass, have receded into the background. Humanity is now experiencing the commotions invariably associated with the most turbulent stage of its evolution, the stage of adolescence, when the impetuosity of youth and its vehemence reach their climax, and must gradually be superseded by the calmness, the wisdom, and the maturity that characterize the stage of manhood. Then will the human race reach that stature of ripeness which will enable it to acquire all the powers and capacities upon which its ultimate development must depend."

So there we have it, a basic idea that humanity has left behind the stage of childhood, with all its limitations and trappings, as well as some of its frivolities, and, while we have not yet fully entered into the stage of adulthood, we have begun the process of maturation, or pubescence. While the "stage of maturity" can be a very ambiguous term, the Guardian helps narrow it for us by placing into a descriptive context. We seem to be at that very point of "youth", having come out of the stage of junior youth-ness, but not yet fully emergent into adult-ness. We are, it seems, somewhere between that 15 and 30 stage, where our powers and faculties are at their height, and yet we are still impetuous and full of turbulence.

And doesn't this just make sense? Can't we look at the changes inherent in children as they grow towards puberty, see the new ways in which they process information, the way they behave, and find striking similarities in humanity over the past few hundred years?

With a child, we can offer them a very simplistic explanation to their sincere questions, for they are generally unable to process or comprehend the more complex answers. Similarly, a lot of the explanations of how the world works, and why we should behave with virtue, were, in the past, quite simplistic. As the child matures, those facile explanations no longer satisfy and we need to rise to the challenge of seeing the individual in their new light and providing more comprehensive answers to their questions. We have already mentioned some of the pitfalls of failing to do this. And those faith groups that have failed to give more comprehensive explanations are witnessing more and more of their members falling away in bitterness. Those that have risen to the challenge are watching the ties of love and trust growing amongst their members. We also see the same thing happening with governments and corporations. People are disillusioned with the facile explanations, or the "We said so" bullying, and want something better.

It is only in the past few hundred years that we have seen the powers of observation in the sciences of the world deepen, and look at how that has impacted the world. The impact is too obvious to go into here.

If we list some of the characteristics of this stage of individual development, we can easily see how it applies to humanity as a whole today:
  1. strength and vigor
  2. former conditions and needs are superseded by new requirements
  3. faculties of observation are broadened and deepened
  4. intelligent capacities are trained and awakened
  5. the limitations and environment of childhood no longer restrict us
  6. we acquire the capacity to manifest spiritual and intellectual perfections
  7. the responsibility for the upkeep of the spirit of selfless service among their fellow believers
  8. ability to adapt themselves to local situations
  9. to meet new challenges
  10. to impart their warmth and enthusiasm to those they visit
  11. the mind is most questing
  12. the spiritual values that will guide the person's future behaviour are adopted

While most of them, such as strength and vigor, and those dealing with heightened awareness of the world, are straightforward, there are some that bear a closer scrutiny. To me, numbers 7, 8, 10 and 12 really stand out.

Number 7, the responsibility for the upkeep of the spirit of selfless service among their fellow believers, drives home the importance of community service, especially in the core activities. Without this spirit of service, especially when it is selfless, nothing will significantly change in a community. As we have seen time and again, when the youth arise to this station, they not only teach those who are younger than themselves, they also inspire those who are older. Similarly, when we arise to this station, we have a significant impact on the community around us, helping people move beyond their self-centered isolation, at least here in Canada. I have seen very little that has united people from vastly different sectors of society than my son's service project, in which he is helping raise money for a homeless shelter. Other children are helping him make his earrings, and they are even being invited by various church groups to come in and share the project with their children. it is truly inspiring.

This ties in to number 8, the ability to adapt themselves to local situations. Shoghi, my son, is not just copying something that is happening somewhere else. He saw a principle, and figured out how to apply it in his own home town. He saw a need and figured out how to help. This shows a level of maturity that I would not have expected in a child, but hey, it`s great to be surprised. Now, when more communities do the same thing and learn how to apply these concepts in their own neighbourhood and to their own reality, then we will see greater and greater things happening. And you know what? It`s already starting. Just a few short years ago I would hear about a project that was working great in one area and then suddenly hear about all these other communities that were trying to do exactly the same thing in their area, hoping for the same results. Naturally, it didn't happen, as the communities were different. But now I'm hearing of communities that are sharing ideas and adapting them more naturally to their locale. This is a wonderful step, with greater effect in the end.

When we do this, adapt an idea from one place to our own area, then we see number 10, imparting their warmth and enthusiasm to those they visit, increasing, too. When people see things working well in their community, their level of enthusiasm goes up. Ain't that great?

But finally, number 12, the spiritual values that will guide the person's future behaviour are adopted. This helps underline the importance of the timeliness of what it is that we are doing. We are not doing all this just for ourselves, or even our neighbours. We are doing this for the future. The longer we take, the more difficult it will be to do in the future.

'Abdu'l-Baha has said , "It is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed."

The Guardian, in an quote cited earlier, has indicated that we have not yet passed this crucial stage in the development of humanity. But time is surely growing short. If we can help train humanity to move more and more into a greater sense of community, and away from its current tendency towards isolation, and if we can help inspire people to look at a true sense of mature spirituality, instead of the superficial tripe that passes for it in many places, then we will help ease this transition of the human race into a better and happier future.

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