What does it mean to grow up? Our culture doesn’t give much attention to this question, as it is largely oriented around the values of youth: energy, impatience, and the sense of a limitless future. But what are the values associated with maturity?
One key value of growing up, or maturity, is integration. The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe thought that growing up was centrally about exploring extremes, and then integrating those extremes. For example, someone might love punk music when they are young—jumping in the mosh pit, yelling, living the Dionysian spirit—but in middle age, they end up running an organization, and learn to appreciate opposite things: calm, order, accuracy, routine. Yet they also hold on to an ability to be fun, carefree, and rebellious—in the right moments. They never reject the punk part of themselves, but they integrate it into the other things they now appreciate.
The philosopher Hegel applied this idea—rather optimistically—to societies as a whole: a society can explore one thing (a ‘thesis’) then the opposite (an ‘antithesis’), and good leaders are able to create a ‘synthesis’: a complex, richer, balanced integration. The ability to do this starts in our individual lives. Depth therapy is a great starting point for finding our way to integration.
Image: Woman Sitting by a Lake, 2017, Les Anderson
Jack is a depth therapist and the founder of Archive. He has a doctorate in theology from Oxford University and a degree in neuroscience from Melbourne University. He is the co-author of The Imagination Machine (Harvard Business Press, 2022)