We enter the world as robust learning machines. Our eyes are constantly flitting about, picking up minute cues to make sense of our new, expansive environment. We are exclusively influenced by our surroundings—the sights and sounds of our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, and, later, our childhood friends and teachers. All this is very subjective and has nothing to do with maturity. We are simply collecting data, until, through endless days of inculcations, we adopt the family’s value system.
Most of us believe that our values are virtuous. We believe our family’s religion is the only true faith. Or—depending on the family—that violence or bigotry or greed is the answer. In other words, because our minds are so malleable, so credulous, we are easily duped. We would like to believe we chose our world views, but we do not. They are handed to us. We have been indoctrinated—sometimes silently, sometimes vociferously—but always inevitably. If that were not true, women in Texas would be wearing burkas, while their Persian counterparts would be donning frayed cutoff jeans and cowboy boots.
A value system is based on our experience; as a result they are subjective. Principles, on the other hand, are based on natural laws; they are objective, self-evident, and immutable. When our actions separate ourselves from others, when they create resentment, those actions are probably value-driven. When our actions enrich and diversify relationships, they are likely based on principles. Value-centered dogma separates one from another; principles bring people together. It’s self-evident.
If we are born into an intellectually and spiritually mature family, our values (how we are raised) and our principles (natural truths) may be one. But that is rare.
Maturity is the process of moving from a system of values to a system of principles, as witnessed in evolved societies and individuals.
Consider how the American society has matured over the last 300 years. We have gained ground in discarding such egregious values as slavery, religious intolerance, child labor, sexist language, and the bashing of gays and lesbians. Of course, greater maturity is needed; there is still a lot of work to be done. And we have only scratched the surface in prison reform, environmental protection, xenophobia, and jingoism.
We quickly recognize principle-centered maturity in individuals. We are attracted to them. They are humble, tolerant, understanding, composed, and peace-loving.
But the supremely mature individual has something more. That person has surrendered the last value stronghold: The belief that every man and woman is immortal. That value—held from the dawn of civilization—is derived from sheer existential cowardice. Immature, value-centered humans cannot bare the angst of their mortality.
Regardless, imagine a world disabused of this last vestige of value-centered hubris. We would finally realize the only life we have is here on earth, and that if we are going to make our terrestrial heaven, we had better roll up our selves and get to work.