Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was known and admired for bearing defeat so nobly in the War Between the States, and who campaigned to get Southerners to accept the inevitable and to alchemize their bitterness toward the North, was once asked the question: "Gen. Lee, have you never felt resentment toward the North?" Inherent in the question was an inquiry with deeper meaning: Lee had been preaching tolerance, but how, deep down, did he really feel?
Stopping under the radiance of one of the crystal chandeliers in the great room he was in, Lee solemnly answered: "I believe I may say, speaking as in the presence of God, that I have never known one moment of bitterness or resentment."Lee is a prime example of a stately man who exhibited emotional maturity, or a state of full natural development, in which his profound values or character could not be impacted or shaken by outside events.
In today's world, there are many inroads to developing and refining emotional maturity, some of the criteria for which, says William C. Menninger, are:
- Having the ability to deal constructively with reality.
- Having the capacity to adapt to change.
- Having relative freedom from symptoms that are produced by ten-sions and anxieties.
- Having the capacity to find more satisfaction in giving than in receiving.
- Having the capacity to relate to other people in a consistent manner with mutual satisfaction and helpfulness.
- Having the capacity to sublimate, to direct one's instinctive hostile energy into creative and constructive outlets.
- Having the capacity to love.
Acquiring emotional maturity is not an end goal - it is a never-ending process of continuing one's growth. "To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly," reflects Henri Bergson. We are, in essence, the architects of our own character and the more we do, the more we become. And we only have two choices, as Bob Dylan points out: "He who is not busy being born is busy dying."
But to acquire emotional maturity requires that we visit with ourselves about our own life's experiences; and that we keep ourselves open to life's challenges and examine them to discover things about ourselves that we really never knew and that make us stretch beyond our own norm: "The things you learn in maturity aren't simple things such as acquiring information and skills," reflects John W. Gardner. "You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety.
"You discover how to manage your tensions. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent but pays off in character. You come to understand that most people are neither for you or against you; they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you - a lesson that is at first troubling and then quite relaxing."
But maturity never occurs without our going through painful life experiences, and during the most devastating periods of our lives, when we are barely surviving, we are unaware of the growth that is forming or the ways in which we are blooming. And, yet, in the more quiet times, when the pain has receded, we can see that, yes, this event did, indeed, propel us to a new and greater level of learning, experiencing and maturing that has made of us a better person: "Every one of us has in him a continent of undiscovered character," reflects an anonymous source. "Blessed is he who acts the Columbus to his own soul."
Quoting Cervantes, who observed that "the road is always better than the inn," Leonard E. Read reflects: "Those who settle on fame or fortune as the inn and having arrived, call it quits, miss the whole point of life.
"Realistically, there is no inn, no ultimate point of arrival. It is the road now and forever - finite man probing infinity, finding his way endlessly. All that matters are the lessons learned along the way."
And the lessons, fired in steel, learned along one's journey in life, do not come in a straight line nor through experiences to which we necessarily respond in perfect form. Nature does not require of us that we do respond perfectly; only that we respond the best we can and that we use whatever talents we have to meet life's challenges.
"We do not live an equal life, but one of contrasts and patchwork; now a little joy, then a sorrow, now a sin, then a generous or brave action," reflects Ralph Waldo Emerson. Our maturity does not come from a shimmering length of perfectly woven cloth, but of patchwork experiences made up of mistakes and omissions, as well as successes and victories, that deepen our wisdom. And, says Cervantes, our maturity comes with time, which "ripens all things. No man's born wise."
Speaking to Cervantes' point, Adlai Stevenson observes: "What a man knows at 50 that he did not know at 20 is, for the most part, incommunicable.
"The knowledge he has acquired with age is not the knowledge of formulas, or forms of words, but of people, places, actions - a knowledge gained not by words but by touch, sight, sound, victories, failures, sleeplessness, devotion, love - the human experiences and emo-tions of this earth and of oneself and other men; and perhaps too, a little faith, a little reverence for things one cannot see."