Everything living grows up – birds, trees, puppies, babies, humanity.
One way to regard the human journey is to think of us as maturing over thousands of years. People intuitively recognize that the human family is growing up and can relate immediately to the question: “When you look at the overall behavior of the human family, what life-stage do you think we are in? In other words, if you estimate the social average of human behavior around the world, what stage of development best describes the human family: toddler, teenager, adult, or elder?”
Informal surveys around the world indicate that nearly everyone has an intuitive sense of the human family’s level of maturity. Whether the United States, England, India, Japan, or Brazil, people have responded in the same way: at least two-thirds say that humanity is in its teenage years. The speed and consistency with which different groups around the world have come to this intuitive conclusion reveal there are many parallels between humanity’s current behavior and that of teenagers:
- Teenagers are rebellious and want to prove their independence. Humanity has been rebelling against nature for thousands of years, trying to prove that we are independent from it.
- Teenagers are reckless and tend to live without regard for the consequences of their behavior. The human family has been acting recklessly in consuming natural resources as if they would last forever; polluting the air, water, and land of the planet; and exterminating a significant part of animal and plant life on the Earth.
- Teenagers are concerned with appearance and with fitting in. Similarly, many humans seem focused on expressing their identity and status through material possessions.
- Teenagers are drawn toward instant gratification. As a species, we are seeking our own pleasures and largely ignoring the needs of other species and future generations.
- Teenagers tend to gather in groups or cliques, and often express “us versus them” and “in versus out” thinking and behavior. We are often clustered into ethnic, racial, religious, and other groupings that separate us from one another, making an “us versus them” mentality widespread in today’s world.
If people around the world are accurate in their assessment that the human family has entered its adolescence, that could explain much about humanity’s current behavior, and could give us hope for the future. It is promising to consider the possibility that human beings may not be far from a new level of maturity. If we do develop beyond our adolescence, our species could begin to behave as teenagers around the world do when they move into early adulthood: we could begin to settle down, think about building a family, look for meaningful work, and make longer-range plans for the future.
The Story in Action
One way of regarding ourselves is as a maturing species that is going through the growth pains of our collective adolescence. Our self-image could therefore be that of a young species that is capable and gifted with untapped potentials. We could see ourselves as immersed in the predictable struggles and turmoil of our adolescent years and ready to move into our early adulthood where we are concerned with the well-being of the Earth and the long-term future of the human family. Despite humanity’s seeming immaturity in the past, we could be close to taking a major step forward in our evolution into early adulthood as a species.
Adolescence is a time when others—such as parents, schools, churches, and so on—are generally in control. As we step into adulthood, we enjoy a new freedom from control, and a new responsibility to take charge of our lives. In a similar way, during our adolescence as citizens of the Earth, most humans have felt controlled by someone else—especially by big institutions of business, government, religion and the media. As we grow into our early adulthood as a species, we will discover that maturity requires taking more responsibility and recognizing that we are in charge. Instead of waiting for “mom or dad to fix things,” an adult is one who pays attention to the larger situation and then acts, recognizing that our personal and collective success are deeply intertwined.
In an informal but meaningful way, Duane Elgin has asked the following question around the world: “When you look at the overall behavior of the human family, what life-stage do you think we are in? In other words, if you estimate the social average or center of social gravity of human behavior around the world, what stage of development best describes the human family: toddler, teenager, adult, or elder?” Around the world, there exists an overwhelming level of agreement about humanity’s life-stage—we are in our adolescent years.
Although many people described our species behavior as rebellious, reckless, and short-sighted, many others also pointed out beneficial aspects of the adolescent stage of development. Adolescents have a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm and, with their courage and daring, are ready to dive into life and make a difference in the world. Many teenagers have a “hidden sense of greatness” and feel that, if given a chance, can accomplish wonderful things. Overall, the archetype of a maturing species explains a lot about our current behaviors and contains within it the promise of a hopeful future. As we grow into our early adulthood as a species, we can recognize we are an integral part of the living universe, consider the impact of our actions generations into the future, place meaningful work over pleasure seeking, measure ourselves by our soulful character, and patiently work to restore the Earth.
Humanity’s Level of Maturity
A mini-documentary that looks at the human species and asks, “What is our collective level of maturity?” Toddler? Teenager? Adult? Elder?
- Andrew Revkin, Growing Pains in Maturing Brains and Global Networks, The New York Times (September 2011)
- Anthony C. Revkin, Puberty on the Scale of a Planet (August 2009)
- Duane Elgin, Turning Tide Report (2001)
- Duane Elgin with Coleen LeDrew, Global Consciousness Change: Indicators of an Emerging Pardigm (1997)
- Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005)
- Duane Elgin, Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity’s Future (2000)
- John Renesch, The Great Growing Up: Being Responsible for Humanity’s Future (2011)
- Elisabet Sahtouris, Earth Dance: Living Systems in Evolution (2000)