Home Concepts Adult Development Essay XVII: Moving from Generativity Two to Generativity Three–Returning to Major Life Issues

Essay XVII: Moving from Generativity Two to Generativity Three–Returning to Major Life Issues

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How do we know that we have chosen or fallen into stagnation? When we are stagnant, we act out of habit. We reach a point in our life when activities take on their own meaning and impetus that were previously means to other ends (such as the approval of our father, the attraction of women or men, the achievement of security). The original purpose is lost, and we invest no new purpose in the activity. Psychologists describe this condition as “secondary autonomy.” It is also the foundation for psychic stagnation. We chose or fall into stagnation when we desperately try to blunt our pain. We act out of an obsessive need to somehow heal the wound and eliminate the anxiety associated with midlife depression. We live in a society that no longer can find any meaning in the experience of pain. This is largely because there is now the possibility of avoiding or eliminating pain through medical advancement and, in particular, “pain-killers”. Alternatively, we discover and embrace our own pain-killing cocktail—be it alcohol, dope, or high-risk sports.

We try to escape from that which is painful rather than finding meaning in this pain. We race away from our inner voices from other rooms and from the generative voices because we hope to avoid pain. Unfortunately, we live in a society that not only approves of this avoidance, but also offers many antidotes to pain, both legal and illegal. We live in a society that is filled with middle-aged men and women who would rather escape pain than find any meaning or purpose in the pain or, for that matter, find meaning in any other aspects of life. Just as pain and generativity are companions, so too are stagnation and the avoidance of pain.

Discerning the True Voices

There is a fifth option. We can attend to our voices from other rooms and seek out new forms of generativity. But this requires discipline. In attending to these voices, we have to make important decisions about what we do with the messages that we receive. In attending to these voices, we do not necessarily have to do what the voices suggest. We have to listen, but don’t have to take the advice. During the Middle Ages, mystics attended carefully to the voices they received through contemplation and various mystical experiences. However, they realized that some of these messages might come from somewhere other than a divine source. The voices may come from their own personal ego, from other people, or even from the devil. As a result, these mystics devised methods for contemplation, transcendent experience, and determining which messages come from God and which come from elsewhere. They called this process “discernment.”

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