Rational maturity begins when we accept responsibility for our lives and our thinking processes. Developing our rational maturity is a question of facing reality honestly. To do this, we have to make the effort to throw off the conventional wisdom and ideologies of the community around us.
We have to do the hard work of deciding what we think for ourselves. We have to become free thinkers, choosing what to believe and recognising that our belief system is a rational choice from many options – and our choice alone.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a leading philosopher of the Enlightenment. He was highly unpopular with the Catholic Church because his clarion call was that people should think for themselves, not blindly believe ideologies. The leaders of the Church took this personally.
Back then, their power and fortune lay in individuals’ and societies’ being forced to think alike and follow the ideology and mythology of the Church. They deliberately forbade their adherents to think for themselves.
The Church praised faith and declared it superior to reason, whereas free thinking was one of the foundation stones of the Enlightenment. Kant suggested that the majority of people are too lazy or cowardly to make the effort to develop their thinking.
It’s so much easier and more comfortable to accept the conventional thinking of society. This antagonism between these two ways of thinking has always been there in societies and is still there today. Rational maturity lies in choosing the way of the free thinker.
Rational maturity is not to be confused with genetically determined natural intelligence. Our community develops it through the parenting we receive, the environment, and schooling. We can develop it further by choosing to educate ourselves. This process is one that can, and should, be lifelong.
Neither is rational maturity the same as rational thinking. With rational thinking, we know what we want, we use logic to set goals, and we work towards achievement. This highly useful skill is necessary for a successful life, and it’s part of rational maturity, but it’s not the whole story.
Rational maturity follows from the first step of deciding to manage our own lives. We deal with our problems. We don’t expect anyone else to deal with them for us. We use our natural intelligence and our rational thinking, but we do so at our own command, not at that of anyone else. This doesn’t mean that we cannot be team players within contexts such as our family, our workplace, or community activities; it means that we choose to join the team and work in it to the best of our ability.
Rational maturity encompasses all these aspects. It all begins with personal choice. Our locus of control moves from the outside – other people and our environment, for instance – to inside ourselves.
Rational maturity is an attitude toward life. You could also think of it as wisdom. We accept life as it is and make the best of it, and we learn from experience. This means that instead of blaming circumstances and complaining, we simply accept them as a challenge that we have to deal with.
Instead of becoming a victim in life, we see anything adverse that happens to us as an occasion for learning. We chalk it up to experience. We accept that whatever happens is a lesson that helps us to become more mature.
Then we analyse what happened. We know what that “gut feeling” from our subconscious tells us. Instead of blaming other people, we consider our own behaviour. We know we should be honest about our own involvement in any incident. We recognise that there are always at least two sides to every story, and it is better to stand outside and above, rather than mindlessly take one side or another. We learn to see the big picture.
Why would we want to develop our rational maturity? The simple answer is that, whatever happens, a life guided by choices that are your own and that you take responsibility for will always be richer and more satisfying than a life of surrendered control.
A good book to read on this subject is Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters, (2021), by Steven Pinker. His view on the modern world is extremely interesting and enlightening.
Have you taken control of your life? Do you plan your life? Do you live life decisively? Have you developed rational maturity?