The Great Growing Up

Bettina M. Gordon, (c) photo by Nathalie Schueller

Would the adults in this country please stand up?

What´s all the hoopla with Occupy Wall Street? Honestly, the last thing I’d like to pitch is a tent in Manhattan in November, when it is 32 degrees at night.

By Bettina M. Gordon, November 18th, 2011

Maybe that’s because I am missing the professional activist’s gene. I’ve protested plenty in my life, but in a personal, sucker punch, lone wolf kind of way. Just ask my family, who naturally took the brunt of my teenage protests.  But I’ve never yelled and screamed in an organized fashion, with makeshift signs, schedules, port-a-potties and police forces around. I´ve never been taken into custody on mayor Bloomberg´s order.

I think it is easy to protest against corporate greed – there is plenty of it. It’s easy to denounce the unfair tax laws – many of the rich actually agree. It’s easy to point at corruption in Washington – again, plenty of it. But when the current hype dies down the impact of Occupy Wall Street on society might be minimal, because protests – as justified as they are – alone don’t lead to lasting change.

So if we truly have a 99% to 1% society, then by goodness, why waste all the energy on blame and anger instead of showing up ourselves as the ethical, responsible human beings we want the 1% to be? Imagine what lasting impact that would have!

So, instead of getting all bent-out-of-shape by taking sides and bashing whoever is “not with me”, I am taking responsibility for my contribution to the financial crisis.

And I am calling for resistance – resistance to running up credit cards to keep up with the Joneses’; resistance to snatching up the big house with little or no money down, against my own better judgment; resistance to blaming those who are even greedier than I am; resistance to anger and jealousy; resistance to demanding others to change while I don´t fundamentally change the way I think and behave; resistance to doing what’s easy instead of doing what’s right.

And if I should ever trade a highly complex financial derivative that makes millions of dollars for me and my peeps and then things go bust, I swear I will stop the government from bailing me out when my soul and I go up in flames like a firecracker!

In short: I’ve decided to show up as the mature adult that my date-of-birth suggests I am.

Lucky for me that famed futurist and bestselling author John Renesch wrote a whole book on how I can go about that. As I am thumbing through Renesch’ latest hot off the press new work,  “The Great Growing Up”, I realize that as adults, we have our work cut out for us: According to the author, America as a nation has not yet progressed from adolescence into adulthood. Good thing I met John earlier in the year when he was a keynote speaker at the Conscious Capitalism Conference in Boston. So now I have him on speed dial so we can discuss growing-pains, adulthood and what the world would look like after a hefty growth-spurt.

Bettina Gordon: John, you write that America as a nation has not grown from adolescence to adulthood yet. What are the parameters that show that America is still behaving like a teenager, rather than a responsible adult? 

John Renesch: The characteristics of conspicuous adolescent behavior include tendencies for immediate gratification, rebelliousness, over-simplification, hanging out in cliques, inflexibility and simplistic thinking.  Short term priorities are taking precedence in teenagers, so does the susceptibility to intoxicants of various types.

This behavior is showing up in our political leaders, in our institutions, as well as throughout society. Behaviors like these prove that people can be emotionally arrested in adolescence even though they have achieved middle age or older chronologically. There are adults among us, but our culture is largely adolescent when it comes to intellectual, emotional and spiritual maturity

So most of us experience arrested development?

If you look at your own behavior you will see places where you behave like an adolescent. We all do  to some degree. As mentioned, indulgences of most kinds are adolescent. Gossip that serves no purpose other than morbid curiosity is another. Much of what passes for news in the media is merely adolescent gossip that fuels conversations that yield no social value, only social unrest or discontent. We also let others get away with their adolescent indulgences, so we empower one another in these pathological and unconstructive acts.

We are in a financial crisis, caused by greed on Wall Street and Main Street and our teenage mindset?

Spending more than we can afford – whether as individuals or countries, families or corporations – is another adolescent trait related to the desire for immediate gratification. I am old enough to remember when my parents saved their money and only purchased a major item like a car when they could pay cash for it. This was before the days of credit cards. We then became accustomed to gratifying our desires and postponing payment to a future date. Over the decades, people stopped saving for unexpected needs which they used to count on for those “rainy days” and started relying on their credit for emergencies. Savings rates dropped sharply in the U.S. and continued until the 2008 recession hit when it went up briefly.

Was the 2008 crisis our opportunity to change?

When the crisis hit, I thought perhaps this might serve as a global awakening. An awakening to the fact that so many countries were spending beyond their means. However, given how our politicians have responded to it, it appears we haven’t learned the lesson as we continue to consume with funds we don’t have, relying on credit and debt to fund our existing lifestyles. We should also have seen a drastic reform of our financial markets so speculation – more short term gratification – is curtailed and true investment is encouraged. I think many people active in the markets have lost track of what real investment is. They have confused gambling-style speculation with investing and they are very different. So unfortunately, most people did not choose to grow up yet.

As mature adults we are responsible for humanity’s future

“We need more than protests against the system like the Occupy movement. We need new systems that replace the existing ones. That requires generative thinking – a whole new level of creativity, similar to what our founders did in 1776.”    – John Renesch

So what makes a nation “grow up”? Is it an individual choice?

Nature sees to it that we mature physically. We have no say in it. Emotional, intellectual and spiritual maturity, in contrast, is a conscious choice. My book is about a change of thinking that supports a paradigm shift-from adolescent self-centeredness to adult responsibility for all life forms. Anyone willing to genuinely “grow up” can make this necessary choice. An ever-increasing number of individuals today are already seeking self-actualization, growing in consciousness, and willing to take on leadership roles in bringing about the first conscious evolution of our species. As we start acting and thinking like adults, our systems will reflect that consciousness. Matters which we endured before, we will find intolerable in our new adult states. Structures will change accordingly as we start demanding (and wanting) things that are more meaningful and beneficial for all humankind. This represents a somewhat invisible global movement of historic proportions.

Growing up globally?

I doubt a country can grow up in isolation. So to me, it is a challenge to the entire species. Einstein said almost a century ago that nationalism was an infantile disease. By that he meant that the time had come for us to think as globalists, as a global society. We can still be proud of our nations and our cultural heritages. But the world is so interconnected nowadays that a more mature approach is to look at ourselves as humans sharing one neighborhood. Like Thomas Paine, the father of modern democracy, told us in the mid-1770s, “My country is the world. My countrymen are mankind.”

What will an adult world look like?

Just imagine our leaders taking a long term perspective on confronting our challenges and a populace which supports such an approach, knowing it a wiser way in the long term and benefits future generations. Imagine a world where the benefits to the collective – the whole – takes priority over my special interest or the special interests of any one group. Imagine a world where those with differing ideologies work synergistically toward the highest outcome rather than settling for the lowest common outcome due to inflexibility and selfishness.

America votes again in 2012. What kind of conscious leader does it need to grow up the nation?

When you have a system that is so dysfunctional as the one in Washington right now, the most conscious leaders imaginable might well get chewed up and eaten for lunch in such a system. I have no doubt that good hearted people with great intentions get elected everywhere around the world every day. Their failure to bring about reform is not so much that they misled their constituents or were two-faced, but they stepped into a system that doesn’t reward good intentions. These systems encourage loyalty to a closed system that distributes power and rewards conformity accordingly. Remember, the first rule of any system is to survive, which means to repel change attempts of any kind because the system sees it as a threat.

So what are we to do?

We need to create new structures, new systems of governance so that these well-meaning people can lead like they want to.  A first step is to end the denial and tell the truth – the systems we have created are obsolete. Not only are they impotent but, in some cases, they are doing more harm than good.

As visionary inventor Buckminster Fuller said many years ago: “You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”    – John Renesch

We have the power to remove legitimacy from all the systems we empower through our unknowing behaviors and attitudes. Creating a world that works for all starts with each of us taking our stand for what we know to be true, not because it benefits just us or our close circle of friends and family, but because it is the right thing to do. My book is about awakening latent potentialities in the human race, unleashing our social potential as thoughtful and soulful beings. The stand we take is about ending the lies we tell ourselves, dispelling the myths that keep us prisoners of our circumstances and prevent us from seeking a higher destiny for humankind.

For more on John Renesch:

The Great Growing Up (Hohm Press, 208 pages) is available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide.

UPDATE: The Great Growing Up is now also available as an ebook for only $ 6.99 at


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Explorer. Journalist. Trainer. Happy Camper (a trained skill). I LOVE hearing from my readers/viewers, so make my day and leave a comment or drop me a note at bettina (@ )!!

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  1. Steve B. says:

    Great article.Unfortunately I don’t think we can raise the consciousness of enough people fast enough. Just like with individuals I think it will take a painful event (a breakup,a death in the family) to propel people to higher levels. The systems in place and the pain they cause will eventually be too much and the explosion of emotion will most likely be the thing that instigates the change we need. The solutions to our problems in the energy and health care fields for example, already exist but knowledge of these solutions is being blocked. The powers that be will not give up control without a fight.There is too much at stake for them and they have the means to fight without much pain. I think our job is to figure out the best “martial art” that will create the new systems you speak of with the least amount of “broken bones” for the entire country.

  2. John Renesch says:

    Steve, history tells us people change for two reasons – things get intolerable (too painful, unpleasant, etc.) or they see a significantly better way (clear improvement, pleasure, etc.). Most significant change happens because of the former (avoiding pain) but some does occur because of the latter. In this case, I see BOTH forces at work as i spell out in my new book – forces pushing us away as well as forces pulling us towards a new vision, a new legitimacy – a better world. I contend when the pain gets bad enough and a vision for a better way gets more widespread, we will reach a tipping point. The primary question is what will the world be like when that occurs.

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