Could turning 21 be significant for us culturally and socially as well? We are about to enter the 21st year of the 21st century. Are we likely to move from collective Adolescence to collective Adulthood?
In 2021 will we come of age? Will we shift from an adolescent mindset to an adult mindset? Will we be given the key to unlock our collective future?
We have been living a collective adolescent life and lifestyle for most of the past twenty or more centuries. We have been continuing to live a collective Adolescence for the first 20 years of this century.
We have been driven by our collective adolescent ego; placing ourselves at the centre of the world where only we matter. The Buddhist scholar, David Loy, names this collective ego our wego. Loy describes wego as our “…deluded sense of collective self.”1 For Loy, our wego manifests at a collective level in similar ways to the ego’s manifestation at an individual level – in ill will, greed, and delusion.
Loy notes that these “three poisons” play out in our institutions. Institutionalised greed plays out in our consumption levels, so much so that “the economy” now is often considered as of more importance than people’s well-being or the health of the planet.
Institutionalised ill will plays out in our heightened militarisation and penchant for retribution and retaliation.
And institutionalised delusion sees us separating ‘us’ from ‘them’ and the continuing polarisation of the world.
Whilst the development of an ego in and individual Adolescent can be a healthy one, remaining stuck in an ego-centric world view is unhealthy. The same is true for us collectively. Sadly, a large proportion of the population of western-styled cultures are stuck in what Bill Plotkin terms ‘patho-adolescence.’2
Plotkin is particularly scathing of Westernized societies, concluding that,
“…many people of adult age suffer from a variety of adolescent psychopathologies – incapacitating social insecurity, identity confusion, extremely low self-esteem, few or no social skills, narcissism, relentless greed, arrested moral development, recurrent physical violence, materialistic obsessions, little or no capacity for intimacy or empathy, substance addictions, and emotional numbness.”
Whew! That’s damning isn’t it? Yet, if we check it out, sadly he is not wrong. He suggests that signs of this ‘patho-adolescence’ can be clearly seen in our political leaders, celebrities, captains of industry, and media personalities.
Socially and collectively, we are no different. Western-styled societies are trapped in a patho-adolescent stage of development. Our collective wego reigns.
So then, how likely are we to collectively shift from our Adolescent preoccupation to a more Adult-like mindset?
Not without a lot of work. The work that needs to be done must take on many forms. It is personal work, as we are all trapped in our egos and must find our way for our egos to become servants rather than masters. It is collective and cultural work, for we are all products of our culture, and co-creators of our culture.
It is institutional work. Our institutions reflect our values, and our institutions shape our values. Our work must turn that around.
It is relational work. The ways in which we relate to one another (not just our friends and family) has a massive impact upon our personal emotional and psychological states. The ways we relate to one another also has a massive impact upon the well-being of our collective selves, and the planet as a whole.
Are we willing to do this work (individually and collectively) now that we are turning 21? Are we willing to become true Adults in a world so sorely in need of such?
1. David Loy, Wego: The Social Roots of Suffering, in Mindful Politics, ed. Melvin McLeod, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2006.2. Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, New World Library, Novato, California, 2008.
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