The maturity continuum

May 7, 2007 at 4:18 pm Leave a comment

Writing last week about the Western atomistic conception of the self vs. the Japanese relational view reminded of something I read last year in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

sevenhabits.gifIn the introductory section of his book, Covey introduces a concept he terms the “Maturity Continuum.” On one end of the continuum is the paradigm of dependence. This is the “you” paradigm: you take care of me, you failed me, you are at fault, you are responsible for my happiness. Dependent people, says Covey, always need others to get what they want, and they always blame someone else when they experience failure.

Many people never move beyond the dependency paradigm, but some mature to the point of embracing the paradigm of independence. This paradigm is the “I” paradigm—I can do it, I am capable, I am self-reliant. Independence, says Covey, “results in people ‘throwing off their shackles,’ becoming ‘liberated,’ ‘asserting themselves,’ and ‘doing their own thing.’” It’s this paradigm of independence that is idolized in Western culture.

interdependence.jpgInterestingly, many people tend to view independence as a sign of genuine maturity. Covey, however, argues that independence does not represent the fullness of maturity. Real maturity is evident instead in interdependence—the “we” paradigm. People operating under this paradigm are capable, self-reliant and responsible, but they realize that by working together, we can do so much more than one person working alone.

Covey is right: interdependence is a far richer paradigm, but it’s the one that largely seems to be missing in the West. Operating instead on the ideal of independence, we bail out of our marriages, escape accountability and responsibility, insist on our own rights, and generally forsake the bonds of interdependence. Unfortunately, however, the ideal of independence falls short as a paradigm for the real world. As Covey says,

Life is, by nature, highly interdependent. To try to achieve maximum effectiveness through independence is like trying to play tennis with a golf club—the tool is not suited to the reality.


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Finis! “Humbled under the flails of God”

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

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