Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

By Abel Merawi

Maturity-Friedrich-NietzscheDecember 3, 2019 ( -- ‘We are civilized and modern. We live in a world of capitalism. We have to establish a liberal democracy.’ We hear these words often since they are the marks of our present world and everyone is expected to strive for their realization. The expectations of modernity place more responsibility on the individual than society and institutions. In a capitalist society, everyone is expected to compete and become the best to deserve the best. In a liberal democracy, people are free to live as they wish, and others are expected to respect it. Furthermore, elections are held with the assumption that every individual is mature enough to make decisions. All these things require people who possess the mental capacity to decide autonomously and take responsibility for their actions. Thus, it is vital that each person reaches maturity, which requires sustained personal growth or development. Below, we are going to explore the necessary development expected of people in the modern age.

Maturity can be taken as physical development, or it can mean spiritual and mental development. I am not going to discuss physical maturity here, for obvious reasons. Rather, it is the mental development and maturity that is the subject here. If a person is chained by numerous mores and systems, which make it impossible to act freely, the person has not reached maturity. If our value systems are a burden rather than expressions of freedom, it is difficult to claim that we are mature. If our political or other decisions are made based on group loyalty rather than logical reasoning, we have not reached the personal growth expected of an adult. True maturity entails reevaluation of values until we reach the level to make informed decisions.

In relation to personal growth, there is a worthy piece in the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche: ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra.’ He has a section with the title, ‘On the Three Metamorphoses’ in which he shows the three stages of development every individual must go through in order to reach maturity. According to his writing, our spiritual journey can be characterized by using a camel, a lion, and a child. He states, “There is much that is difficult for the spirit, the strong reverent spirit that would bear much: but the difficult and the most difficult are what its strength demands.” In other words, endurance is not the main question but what it endures and what is demanded to endure it. In each stage, the expectations are different, and the expected spirit or mentality of the individual is also different.

In the spirit of the camel, Nietzsche writes, “What is difficult?’ asks the spirit that would bear much and kneels down like a camel wanting to be well-loaded. What is most difficult, 0 heroes, asks the spirit that would bear much, that I may take it upon myself and exult in my strength?” The camel is the first stage in our life as we try our best to please everyone around us. As children, we are surrounded by authority figures including our family, our neighbors, our religious leaders, and our teachers. At this stage, like the beast of burden, we find happiness in making others happy. We do not question authority but strive to meet expectations. Being good means following rules while being bad means violating them. We are told to respect and help others and we do it. We act accordingly not because it is the right thing to do but because it is what we are told. We bear and endure much until we become exhausted from all the rules that limit our freedom. At this point, we begin to question our life.

The moment we begin to question authority is the moment we begin to stand as an individual. Nietzsche describes, “In the loneliest desert, however, the second metamorphosis occurs: here the spirit becomes a lion who would conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert.” We possess the spirit of the lion when we begin to rebel. For some, it is when they become a teenager, for others it could be late in life or never. For the obedient individual who fears authority, life could begin and end up as a camel. But for the spiritually strong, the questioning and reevaluation of values are integral. At this stage, we put a stop to ‘You shall’ and claim ‘I will.’ We destroy the irrational and contradictory values we followed hitherto by beginning to rebel. Nietzsche states, “To create new values - that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself and a sacred "No" even to duty -- that is within the power of the lion.” Accordingly, the destruction of values is not sufficient unless it is replaced by new rational values.

After one removes the shackles and become free, the third metamorphosis comes in the spirit of the child. It may be difficult to accept that a child is a final stage even more than a lion. Nietzsche explains, “The child is innocent and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred "Yes." For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred "Yes" is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world.” In order to have our own values, we should have innocence and forgetfulness. If we hold grudge against previous authorities, we will be blinded with rage. We should forget and look at the world anew with innocence. If you observe children, they are capable of creating a game even in bad situations. They know how to create values with a ‘Yes’ attitude to life. Thus, we have to create personal values and express our true freedom.

The psychologist Erich Fromm and many others state two types of freedom: ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’. When we remove the obstacles from our life, it is ‘freedom from.’ When we live life by accomplishing something we desire, it is ‘freedom to’. As people in the modern world, we have to have ‘freedom to’ to realize our dreams. Coming back to the points we raised at the start of our discussion, liberal democracy and capitalism can exist only when individuals are mature. It is the person who has values that can make a proper decision by weighing different possibilities. Thus, I urge every individual to follow the example set in Nietzsche’s story and become a free individual who values life.  


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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