Most of us who have been parents will probably recall that our children's behaviour seemed to cycle between periods when everything seemed calm, pleasant and easy and periods when chaos reigned and we started to wonder what we were doing wrong. I remember very well the day, nearly half a century ago, when I discovered a book in our local library that explained how and why this process occurs.
"Research by the Gesell Institute of Human Development has shown that this pattern of behavior is very common and that children’s growth is not always steady and progressing from less to more maturity. Instead, their development follows a course in which smooth, calm behavior often precedes unsettled, uneven behavior. It is almost as if children need to take two steps backwards developmentally before taking a huge leap forward.
In fact, all children grow through predictable stages of development beginning at birth and extending far into their teen years. Some experts in the field refer to this occurrence as going through periods of equilibrium versus disequilibrium. Children cycle in and out of times when they are more a joy to be with, It cycles up and down and in and out of times when their behavior can be more or less challenging – (disequilibrium). Hence, the “roller coaster” of child development.
The equilibrium periods can be looked at as a time when your child is consolidating learned skills; practicing what he has struggled to master; they are plateaus in development. The disequilibrium periods often occur as the child is entering a new, quick time of growth and development, when he is mastering new tasks and working on new abilities."
It was a huge relief to me to discover that this roller-coaster of psychosocial development throughout childhood is perfectly normal and not some sign that I was somehow being a bad parent.
I hadn't thought about that in years. Until yesterday, when I suddenly found myself wondering whether the increasing disequilibrium we see and sense all around us as our materialist, consumerist Western culture starts to come apart at the seams is in fact part of a similar pattern.
Do humans, collectively, go through a similar set of stages to those we see in individuals? I suspect that maybe we do. There are certainly many 'experts' around today who say that we are now in a new phase of evolution. But we know from history and biology and paleontology that new evolutionary projects don't always proceed smoothly or easily—or even successfully.
If we are indeed "entering a new, quick time of growth and development, when we are mastering new tasks and working on new abilities" it will be because we have no other choice. Overpopulation, the ruthless exploitation of Nature and a doomed-to-be-short-lived reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels has brought us to the point where we MUST learn new skills and learn them very quickly if our species is going to survive at all.
Shall we succeed? Nobody knows. I feel sad, sometimes, that I shall almost certainly not live long enough to greet—and enjoy—the next stage of equilibrium. For that will surely be a time of peace and sustainability, when humans have at last learned how to live in an ecocentric way, like true Earthlings, knowing themselves to be a part of Nature and interdependent with all other life forms. If indeed such a stage is ever reached.
If it is not, well perhaps it is as well for me that I shall die unknowing and still hoping. That way, on my deathbed, if I hear the robin singing in the tree outside my window I can die still believing that there is a chance. I can die thinking that maybe—at least for the next few billion years till our sun becomes a supernova—there will be robins, and trees for them to sit in, and a song for them to sing.