When someone asks a child their age, we’ve all witnessed the child respond by saying, “I’m four”, and then adding, with great solemnity, “and a half.” The child doesn’t want anyone to think they are only four. After all, that precious little soul has traveled so far in that half-year! But then again they are modest enough to sense that there is the huge journey toward turning five that lies ahead. Being five is still quite far away. As children, we are deeply conscious of the rapidity and intensity of human development and we clearly signal to others and ourselves that there is a dramatic metamorphoses taking place in the course of our ordinary days and nights.
It would sound silly or peculiar for an adult to say proudly, “I’m twenty-nine and a half” or “forty-one and three-quarters”. Without really noticing, we seem to have drifted away from awareness of the ongoing, lifelong metamorphosis that defines being human . . . What about the notion that adults are evolving too?
Once we’re past eighteen or so, our progress is still monitored but it is perceived in different terms: We start to evaluate material and professional advancement. The focus is on grades achieved, careers chosen, progress in the corporate hierarchy, etc. Development tends to be synonymous with promotion.
But emotional growth continues, albeit without simple outward measures: Height and weight don’t change, we haven’t changed jobs or been moved to a more senoir position, no new job or personal title is conferred that proclaims our emotional matriculation to the world. Yet there have been changes, nevertheless. We may, over two sleepless nights, or two years of sleepless nights, have resolved a deeply held grief or envy. We may have had an important insight about the way we behave when complimented. We may have discovered self-forgiveness or forgiveness for another. Perhaps we came to clarity about our role in the dysfunctional patterns of a marriage.
These quiet but very real developmental milestones are generally not marked. We’re not celebrated with a cake or a present to mark the moment of growth. We’re not necessarily congratulated by others or viewed with enhanced respect. No one notices, cares or even knows how such caring might work. But inside, privately, our inner four-year-old might harbor a muffled hope that some of these evolutions will be reflected and appreciated.
If we are in a relationship with a therapist or coach, there will likely be some acknowledgement of our development. But it is a significant point of interest that most of the human population is not in relationship with a therapist and does not have the emotional education or experience to be able to perceive or support the emotional development in themselves or others.
Alain de Botton suggests that, in an ideal world, we might have maps of emotional progress upon which we could track our movement toward emotional and spiritual maturity. Perhaps others could notice with us that our inner development is kind of like a journey of exploration around various regions of the outer world, with distinct internal landmarks and staging posts, as significant in their way as the cities of Renaissance Italy or the beauty spots on the Pacific Coast Highway—and which we might be equally proud to have reached, experienced, and understood our way around.
In the spirit of noticing and celebrating the ongoing odyssey of human development, perhaps you might take notice of the ways beauty, ritual, culture, religion, spirituality, self-help and psychology can and do influence your emotional development . . . and notice if you have a sense of camaraderie or lack thereof in the unfolding of your own emotional life.