Idyllic? Yes. Fancy-free? Yes. Innocent? Yes.
Notwithstanding the sad fact that for many children in the world today, such innocence and playfulness is unattainable; childhood for most of us is a happy and playful time.
Then we grow up, and become mature and responsible adults.
Or do we?
If by mature we mean “having become fully embodied with knowledge and behaviour that recognises the effect of ones actions upon oneself and upon others,” then we might question how many of us reach mature adulthood.
If by responsible we mean (literally) having the capacity to “pledge back” to where we came from; to pledge back to our community, pledge back to our society, and to vow to the planet that sustains us – then we must question whether many “adults” reach this level of responsibility.
The American eco-psychologist and wilderness guide, Bill Plotkin, is one who certainly questions whether many of us grow into mature and responsible adults. Indeed, Plotkin answers his own questioning by averring that most “adults” in western-styled societies “… amount to little more than an advanced version of adolescence.” What’s more, Plotkin names the state of western societies today as living during a period of “patho-adolescence.” This state, he laments, is “… a way of life that emphasizes social acceptability, materialism, self-centered individualism, and superficial security rather than authenticity, intimate relationships, soul-infused individual service, and creative risk and adventure.”1
Pretty damning, huh?
It’s a criticism that is hard to argue with. Just look at our political leadership, or the corporate bosses of industry, or the military hawks and strategists. Nor do we need to look outward to these decision-makers and leaders. When we look around our own neighbourhoods and take a wander through the nearest shopping mall then we can see examples of “patho-adolescence” everywhere.
Childhood Can Rescue Us
However, all is not lost. It is possible to step off the immature and irresponsible path and take on a truly adult life.
Only with great determination.2
Bill Plotkin has spent much of his adult life discovering how this may be achieved, and then guiding others towards their own discovery.
In his book, Nature and the Human Soul, he maps out an eight-stage journey of eco-soulcentric human development.
These eight stages begin in babyhood, pass through childhood and adolescence, and move onto adulthood and elderhood. Plotkin thoroughly outlines the opportunities, gifts, tasks, lessons, and desires of each stage. Each stage is important, and no stage moreso than any other. It is also extremely difficult to move from one stage to the next without having fully encompassed the tasks and lessons of the previous stage.
So, what happens if one day during the years we would normally ascribe to “adulthood” or “elderhood” we wake up and ask ourselves – Am I truly living a mature and responsible adulthood (elderhood)? or Am I still stuck in a patho-adolescent lifestyle and stage?
No need for despair. It is always possible to step into a previous stage and discover the lessons, and complete the tasks of that stage.
That takes determination and courage. First, the courage to admit this to oneself, and second, to actively engage the stage which may mean making it public. (Apropos of this, note that “creating a secure and authentic social self” is the primary task of the third stage of Plotkin’s journey – what he calls The Thespian at the Oasis.)
Accordingly, there was wisdom in those words on my T-shirt. Childhood is a time of playfulness, and in that playfulness we learn some things. For example, we learn about our ego and innocence, we learn to discover the delights of the natural world, we learn about the culture we were born into, we start to learn about ourselves and our unique place in the world.
Truly – It Is Never Too Late To Have a Happy (and ecologically and psychologically sustaining) Childhood.
1. Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, New World Library, Novato, California, 2008.2. This line comes from the opening paragraphs of a small book by a friend of mine, in which the narrator is conversing with an eagle and asks: “Could I grow feathers?” The eagle replies: “Only with great determination.” Anson, Conversations with an Eagle, Happy Tadpole Publishing, Coffs Harbour, Australia, 2021. See my review of this gem of a book here.