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Controversy, Conflict, and Emotional Maturity

It’s a presidential election year in the USA.

Confusion and lifestyle modifications surrounding COVID-19 are not going away anytime soon.

Racial tensions and societal responses to those tensions continue unabated.

As we hit the heat of the summer, these issues loom large, influencing our current and future financial stability, mobility, family relationships, civic involvements, and work.

With the human population growing and technological change speeding forward, controversy and debate are sure to continue between traditionalists and progressives, minorities and majorities, and haves and have-nots.

We do not always see eye-to-eye with those we live with, much less with the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.

At times like this, our responses can make or break our freedom, happiness, and perhaps our survival. Responding to controversy or conflict in mature ways helps us push through reactivity to greater clarity and better decisions.

Conversely, immature responses transform challenges into crises.

What Does Mature Behavior Look Like?

Drawn from the best anthropological evidence I can find, I’ve put together a working summary of mature and immature leadership functioning.

The evidence points to a stand-out question: To what extent is a leader’s behavior driven by a careful consideration of what is best for all?

Generally speaking, more mature leaders help groups survive, and less mature leaders disrupt group survival.

Use this summary to take stock of your responses to events and people, and to sharpen your awareness about how you “show up” as a leader:

Behaviors Associated with Emotional Maturity

  • Seeking understanding of both sides of emotionally intense issues; making it a point to hear a view that differs from one’s own.

  • Listening for the context and backdrop—what produced the other’s position? Before judging a different view, how well do you understand it, and the person espousing it?

  • Taking responsibility for one’s own part in a relationship impasse or societal disruption.

  • Strategically compromising. Collaborating towards a win-win outcome. Taking flexible positions that are clear without being locked in a vault. “I’m open to learning something new.”

  • Guiding one’s responses through fact-gathering, reflecting, and discerning—particularly in evolving situations.

  • Staying well-connected in important relationships, without clinging.

Behaviors Associated With Emotional Immaturity

  • Assuming one has the whole story instead of a partial understanding; avoiding people whose viewpoint differs from one’s own.

  • Listening only for another’s position, without understanding what produced it.

  • Blaming others; not seeking or seeing one’s part in a problem or disruption.

  • Unwilling to compromise: “I’m sticking to my position regardless of new inputs.” Holding rigid positions and interpretations with little interest in questioning.

  • Allowing emotional reactions to dictate responses.

  • Cutting off from, or trying to control others, in important relationships.

I want to add two more immaturity points for emphasis.

Immaturity point #1: “Grouping”

One common immature tendency is “grouping” —categorizing or boxing people without considering the wide range of difference within any unit of people.

Not everybody in a group thinks and behaves the same way. Such generalizations preclude real understanding.

Contrary to what many believe, emotional maturity is not correlated with age, race, intellectual brilliance, financial success, or social status. One can be super talented and super immature.

For example, in any group of business leaders, politicians, religious leaders or physicians, you can discover a broad range from higher to lower maturity.

Instead of judging groups as a whole, look for individual differences within each group. Fight stereotyping by exposing the myth of sameness.

Immaturity point #2: “Passion”

Public opinion rarely appreciates mature or “grown-up” behavior, while glorifying immaturity.

An excellent example is the importance commonly placed on passionate conviction. It’s as if high decibel levels and unyielding beliefs mean more than civility and reasonableness.

Strength of conviction is unrelated to its accuracy. In fact, publicity thrives on flamboyance over substance.

Paying attention to how you express a conviction or view gives you a glimpse of your degree of emotional maturity.

I personally strive for poise over passion.

A Path Forward

Building one’s emotional maturity is a potent starting point for enabling flexibility and ingenuity in an ever-changing world. Start with yourself, and do the hard work of paying more attention to your responses than to the issues themselves.

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