Small changes and big impacts

Published by Ali Gordon-Creed on

Some of the events going on in our world make me reflect on what it means to be emotionally mature. Are all adults mature in this way? Not necessarily.

And yet, to be humane and have heart in whatever we do, I think we need emotional maturity because it enables us to put ourselves in the shoes of others; to consider the impact of our actions on everyone involved.

You might think of emotional maturity as emotional intelligence, or even having a sense of responsibility. Certainly, this was how my thoughts evolved when considering this and then it struck me: we can’t be responsible if we are not taught to be. We need a new word: we need to know how to be responsable.

What difference does this one letter change make?

Being responsible, with an ‘i’, means being able to think rationally, to weigh up risks. Being responsable, with an ‘a’, means being able to manage our emotions; to be and act in the here and now.

You can be thoroughly responsible and yet still allow a memory or experience from the past take over your actions. You can be responsible and yet not take another person’s feelings into consideration.

The difference between responsible and responsable is the difference between emotional impulses and rational thinking.

We often see a demonstration of the difference between these states when it comes to driving and road rage. Imagine the seemingly responsible person driving along behind a car which suddenly stops dead in the middle of the road. The responsible person has to slam their foot on the brake and, for a moment, is concerned they might hit the vehicle in front. They don’t, but suddenly their emotions get the better of them and they fling open their door and shout, swear and completely lose their temper with the other driver. This is because they are not responsable. They are not able to control this reaction. Even though they have no idea why the car in front stopped so suddenly (and there will often be a very good reason), it doesn’t even occur to them that something might have happened. They are not able or equipped to manage their emotions in the context of the situation.

What makes us able to be responsable?

However, the ‘able’ element of responsable is something we are all born with. I’ve talked before about the vagus nerve, and it is our failure to nurture this innate system which has meant we’ve lost touch with our gut feel; our ability to remember that there is more going on in every situation than meets the eye.

Because we have un-learned how to connect our heart and gut with our brain, we are out of touch with our subconscious. Babies still have this connection, and you can see this when they react to things. Their vagus system is helping them to assess risk by sensing the environment around them.

What does a lack of responsability mean?

Essentially, we have lost our survival capacity. We no longer have a built-in alarm which rings when we aren’t considering the environment around us, or the people impacted by our actions. Biologically we are given this capacity and I wonder how different our world might be if we had managed to retain it.

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Categories: Support