The Life Cycle: Stages of Human Development
Each of the following views of the human life cycle are merely possibilities. Which one serves us better?
“Forever Young”: Our Current Culture’s View of the Life Cycle
In our culture, children aren’t intrinsically valuable. They are viewed as innocent angels who need to be sheltered from the world, or they are demons prone to misbehavior who need a heavy hand to bring them in line. Either way, they are viewed as incapable and somewhat burdensome because they cannot produce acquisitions or power. In fact, children are one of the biggest “consumers” on the market. Their unruly desires, impressionability, and immature emotions make excellent fodder for gaining power and material wealth through selling things to children or their parents. Children in our culture are thus on the low end of the power dynamic and generally need to be pacified to keep from deterring adults from gaining power and possession. Pacification is accomplished through distraction (television, toys), punishment (spanking and yelling), and paying someone else to watch them (babysitters, schools). Good parents (and grandparents, aunts, or uncles) buy possessions for their children and keep them under control. These tools are used equally by rich and poor in our society, whether it’s video games and private schooling or cheap movies and public schooling.
At puberty, people enter a period of rebellion and resistance which we call the “teens”. We expect teenagers to go through a phase of anger, depression, or “risky” behavior at some point or another, and generally treat them with the same pacification and distraction tools we give to children. Childhood “ends” at the age of 18 when most are expected to leave their parents and support themselves financially in the world, or continue their schooling but with slightly less institutional and parental oversight.
After that, we continue through the physical phases of human development: from young adulthood on toward middle age and finally into old age. In our culture, the young adult stage is considered the golden years of a human’s life. It is the most powerful stage, when we are both good-looking and productive – “on top of the world”. In our culture, people make great efforts to retain a youthful appearance and to continue working to gain possessions and power as long as possible. In our older adult years, we remain productive but lose the power of youthful good looks, which yields the phenomenon of the “mid-life crisis” when we seek to regain a sense of power and vitality through buying new things or going on a diet and exercise regimen. Old people return to a status similar to children: asexual and unproductive. All these stages in our culture reflect changes in physical and power status – our emotional and spiritual evolution remains unimportant and unsupported. This is not to say that no one in our culture evolves emotionally or spiritually in a lifetime, but more that these aspects are not expected of everyone and are considered out of our control. It is very common for older people in our culture to be impatient and insecure, just like children. Many of us have come to consider it normal that no one ever really grows up emotionally.