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
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
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”
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
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.