The other day someone spoke of “maturity”, and I thought how quaint. With all the changes that befall us in the world, and all the changes we try to make, how rarely do we experience – or desire – simple ripening, that something should grow into its own fullness, in the fullness of time. So, I wondered, what’s that about?
Mostly, it’s about hatred of the present and the past it rode in on. When what is cannot be tolerated and patience is both impossible and unthinkable, we must insist on real change: transformation, evolution, revolution. The past, with all its ignorance, mistakes and cruelty, can only ripen like a stinking corpse. It offends our sensibilities. We will make a new beginning, build a better future.
Now, clearly, the present is intolerable and the past full of what we’d like to leave behind. Clearly, we can’t go on like this. You all know what I’m talking about. But what interests me here is the opposition of maturational change, which is fruition, and radical change that breaks from its root conditions.
The desire for radical change is commonly presented (by conservatives) as a pursuit of the naïve and idealistic, as an adolescent phase. When the young become mature, they will learn to accept reality, the ways of the world and their own limited ability to effect anything. What a sad grey story, all adrip with complacency, complicity and capitulation. (Also, curiously enough, precisely a story of radical change.)
A much more interesting – and less discussed – possibility is that of a mature radicalism. This phrase suddenly brings to my mind a great host of teachers and elders I have had the good fortune to meet. All of them who consistently refused to accept that injustice could remain unchallenged, consistently believed that we could indeed each make a difference, could together make a better world.
The maturity of their radicalism – I mean, their enduring aspiration for real change – was expressed in their conduct and in their skilful use of whatever conditions they encountered. Truly matured, all grown up, grounded in themselves, ripe and juicy. Passionate, engaged, creative, smart. Compared to their younger selves, these revolutionaries (in whatever field) are not so hot-headed, not so adamant, not in such a hurry, not so captivated by their own power and daring. In short, they’ve gotten over themselves. (More or less. There’s still lots of ego around, but even that can be put aside or put to use. As needs be.) They settled down, but, unlike those erstwhile radicals who mature into docility, they didn’t settle down to sleep, but to work. Fearlessly, for the long haul, whatever it takes.
And so, they also provide us a vision of a radical maturity. This coming of age isn’t simply an attainment or a culmination, not just the natural end of a natural line. (That’s just death.) In this radical maturity, you don’t come to rest in yourself; you’re always setting out again. Looking forward.
(In memory of Rosaleen Ross, 1909-2008)