A Brief Overview [see Humanity’s Necessary Growing Up—The Concept of Cultural Maturity—(Long Form) for a more detailed introduction].
The concept of Cultural Maturity provides big-picture perspective for understanding the times in which we live and what the future is requiring of us. Its concern ultimately is the long term. Many of the questions it brings attention to will become obviously important only over the next twenty, fifty, or even a hundred years. But it is also directly pertinent to today. And many of the changes it addresses are already well in motion.
It is becoming increasingly clear that successfully addressing critical challenges before us will require new kinds of understanding and new human capacities. We also find that the new abilities needed to address very different future challenges often have much in common. The concept of Cultural Maturity was spurred by the recognition that developmental language provides a way to understand these observations, and in doing so, to describe today’s overarching human task. Our times are demanding a critical “grow up” as a species.
Challenges we face will require not just new ideas, but a fundamentally greater sophistication in how we think, act, and relate. The concept of Cultural Maturity addresses what that 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.
The concept is much more than just a useful metaphor. It is a formal notion within Creative Systems Theory, a comprehensive theory of change, purpose, and interrelationship in human systems developed by Dr. Charles Johnston and colleagues at the Institute for Creative Development over the last thirty-five years. CST describes how specific cognitive changes—changes not just in what we think, but how we think—will be critical to any kind of future we would want to live in. The concept of Cultural Maturity challenges the notion that Modern Age institutions and ways of thinking are end points and ideals—only needing further refinement. It describes how our future human well-bing hinges on essential next steps in our human development.
The concep 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. Third, it assists us in developing new kinds of perspectives that will be essential if we are to make effective decisions going forward.
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 describes will be necessary. People’s frustrations reflect at least 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 increasingly we appreciate that a sane and healthy future will require that we be more intelligent in our choices. We recognize, for example, 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. And most of us also recognize something further, that given the magnitude and the subtlety of the challenges we face and the potential consequences of our decisions, our choices need to be not just more intelligent, but also more 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 others. Culture’s parental presence has also protected us from life’s very real uncertainties and immense complexities.
In today’s increasingly multi-faceted world, traditional cultural guideposts serve us less and less well. The implications of this loss of past absolutes are Janus-faced—at once it brings disturbing absence and possibility. Combined with how our world has become more risk-filled and complicated, a 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 post-modern, “anything-goes” sense. More than just a loss of past rules 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. Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes offer the possibility of more systemic and complete ways of being in and making sense of our worlds.
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.
In spite of the stretch it demands, with time, most people find culturally mature understanding to be straightforward—common sense. This is a maturity and sophistication of common sense that has before now not been necessary—or possible. But with the needed shift in perspective, culturally mature decision-making is not complex. Ultimately, our future wellbeing—and perhaps our survival—will depend on it.
In the end, the concept of Cultural Maturity is about leadership, though 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 purpose of this podcast is to bring culturally mature perspective to the important issues of our time, and, in the process, to support the broader evolution of culturally mature understanding and culturally mature decision-making our future will increasingly require.