I can like a parade; if I must. If someone else’s enjoyment requires me to go along, and they need, or want me to co-sign on that experience with them; I can do it. But I don’t like parades. Crowds make me uncomfortable. Loud noises annoy me. So much stimulation gives me a headache.
But we put up with these things, for others. Life teaches us to sacrifice, and we learn to think of others in addition to, or more than we think of ourselves. We grow up, we become adults, and we gain maturity. Sacrificing for others is one of the hallmarks of maturity. At first we may not like it. As children, our parents may make us consider a sibling’s feelings over our own; or as young adults we may be called upon to consider those less fortunate than us and to give of our surplus. We start off sacrificing through clenched teeth, grimacing; and we begin giving with clenched fists. Our conscience slowly prying our fingers open, as we continue to give and become mature.
Eventually, hopefully, we learn to give graciously, and we learn to enjoy it. We give joyfully. For instance, I can smile at a parade now; and most of the time I’m not even faking it. I’ve learned to overlook all of my discomforts and find joy in the things I like: focusing upon the happy children all about, the cute pets at my feet, the classic sports cars all in line, the silly costumes, and the candy. I can be pleasant at a parade; if I must.
Learning this kind of maturity is good. It helps us ‘play well with others’. But it isn’t without its dangers. I’ve met plenty of people who can get along and be a good neighbor, but who haven’t the foggiest idea what they really think, or what they really like. They know what they’re supposed to like, and they can say all the things they believe they should think. But the critical internal processes that lead a person to character traits like integrity and courage have become lost along the way. For many of us, this path to maturity has led us also into a befuddled confusion. We know how to get along with others, but we can’t get along with ourselves.
Knowing how to live with others takes maturity. Knowing how to live with ourselves takes wisdom.
I suspect we all know on some level, that in this process of ‘growing up’ we’ve lost something vital. Perhaps this is at the root of the widespread narcissism we see in our world today. Folks are desperately trying to find ‘their truth’, and live ‘their best lives’ although we haven’t the faintest idea what makes for truth, or a quality life. Furthermore, folks attempt to make others bend to their own desires, in hopes of living a good life.
We have gained maturity by learning to say ‘No’ to our selfishness, in favor of what others want (our parents would be proud). Now, I suspect we can gain wisdom by the same process. By saying ‘No’ to the selfishness that is all around us, by saying ‘No’ to everything that would reduce us down to a means of fulfilling the desires of someone else, we find freedom. In this way, we can extricate ourselves from the web of confusion all around us, and we can discover truths that dwell deep within us. We grow independent of this greedy and manipulative world.
We must say ‘No’ to simply being consumers, or becoming ‘brands’, for we are humans not corporations. We must say ‘No’ to having our spiritual humanity reduced to material commodities and economic units. We should say ‘No’ even to our friends and family members when they want to manipulate us, simply to satisfy their own desires, which may not be in our best interest.
At the root, maturity and wisdom both require discernment. ‘No’ is the excellent path to knowing. Saying ‘No’ builds inner strength and courage. Witnessing the external results which follow from saying ‘No’, helps us to gain discernment and attain wisdom. It is good to be mature, but it is excellent to be wise. Freedom and independence depend upon a healthy, discerning ability to say ‘No’!