A few years ago I embarked on a year's worth of rage over an incident that would seem trivial to most people,
My sister went to London for six weeks. When she came home she was full of plays and books and people and places that she had seen, and, of course, she wanted to tell us all about it. Whenever she did, a little teapot inside me came to full boil in a matter of seconds, and I had to find a way out of the conversation before I tipped me over and poured me out.
Why this strange reaction? I wasn't positive until I read a little bit about Erik Erikson's theories on the stages of development. One of his ideas was that to grow up healthily in a western culture a young person has to go on a psychosocial moratorium: a big word for cutting ties and doing something different for a while, preferably somewhere far from home. Like going to London for a summer.
As far as I can tell, Erikson thought (and you psychologists out there can correct me if I'm wrong) that a psychosocial moratorium is a person's way of stripping him or herself down to a more essential self. To see what you're like without authority figures looking over your shoulder, or without the bonds and expectations of family and community. A time to find yourself so that you can reenter society as a more realized person ?¢Ç¨Äú as a person who can encounter the many difficulties of society gracefully, benefiting from them rather than being crushed.
I think Erikson may have something there. And as I look back on my Mormon upbringing I'm not sure I ever had a psychosocial moratorium. I graduated from high school, went on a mission, got married and spent the next ten years going to school, working, paying a mortgage (which, thanks be to Zeus, I escaped) and raising children. Hardly even time to breathe.
My wife (the more open-minded half of our partnership) hypothesizes that missions are Mormonism's version of the psychosocial moratorium. This is a good thought. In many ways a mission mirrors what Erickson was talking about: being away from home, in entirely new circumstances, and being relatively autonomous. But, frankly my mission was anything BUT a psychosocial moratorium. It was more like a psychotic socialization. I felt like the authority watching me was stronger than ever, like there was much more pressure for me to perform than there had been back in normal life.
But, as my wife points out again, maybe that's exactly the kind of moratorium some Mormons need. Instead of stripping themselves down, they prefer to be galvanized by a force powerful enough to motivate the rest of their lives.
I'm interested to find out what you all think of this. Was a mission a good moratorium for you? Did it do its job getting you ready to encounter life as an authentic person? Or are you lame like me?
(Side note: I think I did finally work my moratorium in over the last five years in Alaska. So no travel brochures, please.)