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Who’s a real boy now?

Submitted by TheRididill on August 23, 2010 – 10:15 amComments

I discovered in a lengthy New York Times article the other day, that the ‘Choister’ phase is beginning to be recognised as a legitimate stage of development, known as ‘emerging adulthood’. This term was coined by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett psychology professor at Clarke University in Worcester Massachussets, and describes a state of life in which is characterised by ‘identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between and a rather poetic characteristic he calls “a sense of possibilities.”’ Sound familiar anyone?
This was particularly topical for me as I have just canned my (relatively) successful job to spend a year in Latin America, something I’ve always wanted to do since my adulthood started emerging in a hedonistic gap year trip around the world. This decision has not been an easy one to make. Having endured the soul crushing disappointment of unemployment, it’s hard not to feel I’m throwing something massive away on little more than a whim; that really I’m just afraid of the commitment and routine that shackles most of our society and I should just stop running and learn to put up with it.
The article finishes on a question I have asked myself many times: whether we should be finding something to put food on the table and get on with our lives, or whether this self-exploration may actually result in better, more thought through life decisions and will therefore stop us abandoning our families in our 40s and 50s in a ridiculously souped up sports car with a troupe of impoverished foreign toyboys/girls in a fit of resentment at our younger selves’ previous life choices.
The main question as to whether it’s a legitimate state of development hinges on the argument as to whether the stage is an essential, necessary stage of life development, i.e. you must go through it to reach the next stage or you will be forever psychologically malformed and a dysfunctional pimple on the smooth face of society. Which according to developmental stage theory, it must be, if it’s a proper stage.
Largely, this is a ‘stage’ of the privileged and therefore excludes the majority of the population. You don’t really see Brazilian slum children volunteering in Britain to ‘find themselves’. That’s quite a strong argument for the ‘self-indulgence’ take rather than the ‘self-actualization’ one. But I don’t really buy the argument there is a definition of a ‘proper stage’: as the article notes, adolescence didn’t exist until the past hundred years or so, and in many places, childhood doesn’t, at least not in the way that we think about it. But if the means existed, it might be another story entirely.
In which case, perhaps the question we should really be asking is not whether everyone does it, but would it be better for everyone if they did have that opportunity, or something of the kind?
Of course, this is something we will probably never know, at least not in our lifetimes, and these kinds of opportunities sadly seem to depend on deep inequalities which mean that people like us can afford to spend long periods of time in developing countries without earning too much or needing to get a proper job.
But maybe, if we’re optimistic, it might just result in a generation of people who consider that there is more to life, and should be more to life, than just making a living. And if that results in a shift in economic policy objectives (not to mention the kinds of businesses that will dominate the market place) that value the intangibles of personal experience and contribution to social good, as well as the tangibles of cash, that may even increase choice for everyone: single parents struggling on estates and middle class university graduates alike.
We can all try our bit to make that happen. But if it doesn’t work out, well, at least we can be grateful for being one of the lucky ones.

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