We have two crises in America, the pandemic and of immaturity. Bob Woodward, the journalist and author of the new book, Rage, just revealed to us how pervasive it is.
It is obvious he could have revealed to us those Trump audio tapes at any time between February and September, during those seven months. He could have exposed the immature mistake Trump was making: to lie about it to us. Yet he didn’t. He says he didn’t know how bad it was going to be. That can be understood for maybe a month, maybe for two months, but to not have revealed those audio tapes for seven months means he had another priority.
Here is the lesson I learned a long time ago. It is the priority that counts. It is always the priority that counts. Everything else always accommodates whatever is our priority.
President Trump’s rationalizations of why he lied about his judgment the pandemic was going to be horrible, and Robert Woodward’s rationalizations of why he didn’t give priority to helping us, are two symptoms of our crisis of immaturity.
For some reason, perhaps because we give such a high priority to exercising our ability and right of individual free choice, we ignore there are layers of maturity of this skill we label “human self-consciousness.” We are not born with this skill. It is a skill we learn, one smaller skill at a time and in a natural progression, like learning the smaller skills of riding a bicycle. They result in full maturity in the skill of riding a bicycle or human self-consciousness.
In the model I use, at the Baby layer we give priority to sensations to survive. At the Toddler layer we become aware of differences, mommy-no mommy. At the Child layer we learn a human language and the skill of self-consciousness it allows. It, in turn, allows us to exercise choice. For example, when offered chocolate or vanilla ice cream, we choose one. At the Teen layer, we discover we can exercise our ability and right of individual free choice. For example, we may respond, “I don’t want to talk about ice cream now. I want to talk about getting a car.”
244 years ago, the United States was the first modern nation organized as a democracy. That was a collective honoring of our maturation into the Teen layer. Today, most nations on Earth are at least technically democracies. Fundamentally, as history reveals, on the whole humanity is always maturing.
However, the Teen layer is not the last layer of maturity of this skill of human self-consciousness. Exercising individual free choice is not even full maturity at the Teen layer. Yes, it is honoring that we each have the ability and right to exercise individual free choice: “Dear king, we do not need you anymore!” However, the other side of that coin is that we now share in the responsibility to act for the common good of the family, the community, the nation, and now as we know, the Earth and all on it. We are each not alone. In the web of nature, we are inseparable from one another. The other side of the coin of individual free choice is sharing with each other the responsibility to give priority, there is that word again, to the common good.
The next layer of maturity after the Teen layer is the Adult layer where we choose one fundamental worldview to always guide our thinking. It becomes our new priority. For most people, this is usually a religious or scientific based fundamental worldview.
It does not make any difference what the content of that worldview is. If we continue to think our natural priority is the self-interest of our physical body instead of the common good of our communities, we will give priority to the self-interest of our physical body. We will then have rationalizations of why that was appropriate instead of giving priority to the common good. We are stuck at giving priority to only half of our potential maturity at the Teen layer.
I remember being at a dinner party fifteen years ago and having a conversation with someone I did not know who was in his sixties. I discovered that for the last ten years he was covering politics at the capital of Connecticut for a major city’s newspaper. I asked him if the Fourth Estate is still alive and well. It is journalists giving priority to having the courage to speak truth to power. He immediately said, “No.”
I was surprised. I asked why. He said, “Every young journalist today gives priority to his or her advancement and, as a result, an increase in income. To do so, they determine who the editor loves or hates and do positive stories on the ones they love and negative stories on the ones they hate. The fourth estate is dead.”
This is a crisis of immaturity that pervades our society. It is so pervasive people are often experienced as “immature” or “naïve” if they are not giving priority to the self-interest of their physical bodies.
One of the missions of the environment movement is to have us all become aware we are all in this together. We are fully connected to each other and the Earth. Therefore, giving priority to the common good of Earth is our community responsibility beginning at the Teen layer. Instead of only giving priority to the self-interest of our physical bodies, the success of that movement will be determined by its success at having us awaken to the obvious fact we have to collectively accept full responsibility for the other side of the coin of human maturation into the Teen layer.
We are each going to die. Therefore, it is not logical to think it is natural for our highest priority to be the self-interest of our physical bodies. Why do we love our romantic partner? That is not in the self-interest of our physical bodies. Why do we love our children so much? That is not in the self-interest of our physical bodies. Why do we love our close friends so much? That is not in the self-interest of our physical bodies. These are three places where the natural reality we are all in this together survives in our society, but those appear to be the last three places it survives. And as we know, many of us struggle to keep these relationships a source of joy.
Today, everything about our economy is based on giving priority to profits for our self-interest. Everything about politics is based on giving priority to winning elections to stay in power. Everything about news programs today is giving priority to selling commercials. And as we just witnessed, everything about journalism is giving priority to selling books.
We have a crisis of priorities. We have a crisis of ignoring our priority determines everything else we do. We have a crisis of ignoring there are layers of maturity of the skill of human self-consciousness and mastering only half of the Teen layer of maturity is not the highest smaller skill to master the full skill.
Throughout history giving priority to “the common good” has been labeled “moral behavior.” Fundamentally, we have a crisis of having abandoned giving priority to moral behavior as a result of being stuck at giving priority to the self-interest of our physical bodies.
Where is the Gandhi voice today to lead us out of this? Where is the Martin Luther King Jr. voice to lead us out of this? Where is the Mother Theresa voice to lead us out of this? Where is the Nelson Mandela voice to lead us out of this? Where is this voice inside each of us?