One of my favorite moments in any song is in the Lonely Island (I know. Don't judge, lest you be judged, sinner) song "I Threw It On The Ground," shortly before the awkward and mediocre ending. Andy Samberg has expressed his comedically misplaced infuriation with generic, everyday situations, like being handed a free hotdog ("I don't need your handouts! I'm not a part of your system. You can't buy me, hotdog man") and being offered a piece of cake at a birthday party ("What am I supposed to do with this, eat it?") and lets this satirical gold fly:
I'm an adult!
We're talking about adults today.
It's probably engrained in our DNA to search for some kind of rite of passage, whether it's going walkabout, moving out of your parents' house, or buying your son his first crack rock and hooker (or whatever it is Rob Ford would do). Moments that are designed to transfer you from one stage of life to another, most likely acquiring skill sets along the way that will be useful in maneuvering the stage of life about to be entered, are as old as humanity itself. Paul speaks in Scripture of the difference between his actions as a child and as an adult, about how he "put off childish ways" and clothed himself as a man.
We have, then, a gap. We have on one side of it adults: enrobed in the things they've provided for themselves, living in a house they work jobs to pay for, responding rather than reacting, and getting up, sucking up, and putting on the work clothes when they feel like sleeping that extra thirty minutes or weathering the sick day under warm sheets. On the other side, there are the children: dependent and reactionary, often irrational, easy to be offended and quick to call it quits when the going gets rough. Finally, there is some sort of passage acting as a bridge between the two. The natural thing for us to do is to look at one of them as better than the other - adulthood is, after all, the goal. Any step towards it must be a step in the right direction, so any step away from it is wrong.
Probably not. Truly forward-thinking societies will recognize the importance of childhood, just like introduction and exposition are essential in a story. Childhood is where you're first presented with joy and anger and frustration and problems and love. However big a crackpot you think Freud is, there is validity to the notion that what happens in your childhood affects whom you become later. How caterpillars break out of their chrysalis determines whether they'll survive as a butterfly. We're certainly willing to accept this when it comes to criminal types, right? "He had a terrible childhood!" we scream in defense (you can read what think of excuses like this here).
So if it's so important, why are we so intent on taking it away? I wonder what it means for childhood considering the number of 12 year olds I've seen with cell phones, the "toddlers" we put in "tiaras" on a pageant stage, that we've traded social development for Minecraft and placating television shows, or the very fact that using children for sex is a thing which exists.
Indeed, Western conception of childhood is in the process of changing, I think. Changing them into little adults.
Yet we're so bad at being adults ourselves.
Your average citizen is going to get rather offended if you call them childish, which in itself is a pretty funny thing, because offense is a childish notion. Disagreement, even vehement disagreement, is natural and healthy, but the way you handle affront is something which measures maturity. So I've compiled a list of things from other thinkers, from the secluded parts of my brain, and from observation that I believe mark some of the realizations which distinguish the "Grown-Up" from the "child":
1. You realize that personal offense in no way grants you any rights at all. "I'm offended" has, for some reason, been transformed into something that you feel somebody owes you. Like being offended grants you rights. Here's what "I'm offended" actually means: "You don't see something the same way that I do and that bothers me, because the way I think is the way that you should think and it frustrates me that I'm not as important to you as yourself."
2. You realize that you're responsible for how you're presented to others. This requires objective views of yourself, tainted neither by undue self-aggrandizement nor undue self-deprecation. This requires honest looks at your strengths and weaknesses. This requires real evaluations of how you view yourself. Where children are dependent on the way that their peers see them, there must be a line where you receive your worth from something other than the words or the actions of others. To quote the philosopher Katt Williams: "What do you mean, 'you wrecked my self-esteem?' It's called SELF esteem. It's esteem of your [freaking] self."
3. You realize that responsibility is not something that's evil or arbitrary or unjust; it is merely you getting done the things that need to get done. Responsibility is not getting smashed on Thursday nights before having to work early on Friday. Responsibility is owning your mistakes, accepting the consequences for them, and working to make the wrongs right. Responsibility is saying, "perhaps there's something more important than just me here."
4. You realize that there are four kinds of fair (according to my Grandfather): fair skies, fair eyes, fair skin, and the fair where you take your prize pig to be judged. To quote my father paraphrasing Jerry Jenkins, "Life's not fair. So deal with it." It's ludicrous to assume that we will always be treated justly, so we must focus on what we can control: how we respond. You have no say in the way that others live their lives, but you may choose every day how you're going to live yours - how you're going to treat those around you, what kinds of improvements you're going to make, and how you're going to handle it when somebody treats you "unfairly."
5. You realize that there is a difference between reacting and responding, and you choose to try to do the latter. We're not perfect, but what separates the "men" from the "boys" is what happens that instant after they're wronged or they're told startling news or they find themselves quite suddenly in a deep pit. Reaction is knee-jerk, often angry, and most of the time the wrong way to handle any situation. Response is measured, thought out, and rational. Step back, assess, and respond accordingly; do not give yourself to fleeting, passionate response.
6. You realize that "moderation" is not just worth looking into, but crucial. "Love moderately," warns the Bard (and I'm paraphrasing simply because I don't have the play in front of me), "or else it will end like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume." By all means, love - but do not love to the point where you abandon reason or sensibility and not so little that you live detached. By all means live passionately, but not so passionately that you tip the balance from passion to destruction and not so lethargically that you spend your days bedridden and slothful. By all means drink and be merry, but not to the point where your days are lived solely for merriment, and not so little that you are stoic as a stone. Find joy in your toil; find tranquility in balance; find more in less.
7. You realize that the very best things are worth earning and waiting for. This is difficult, since we live in a "get-it-now" (I wrote about this last week) culture. There is nothing about "wait" that is preached in America: it's more, mine, and now. We have an entire sector of people gleefully accepting handouts (some take them with humility, but "exceptions" and "rules" and all of that). We don't discuss the merits, except on Religious bases, of reserving sex for marriage. We don't write letters anymore, we send text messages and tweets. Never would you approach a draught of vintage and expect it to be well-aged immediately; proper fermentation takes years. A day of rest is thoroughly lovely, but until you've worked full weeks on end, that rest will never be as wonderful as it could be; it's through the preparation and the waiting that the Goodness is refined. Instant access causes more problems than it fixes, for it creates us into dogs chasing cars rather than settling on the bone in front of us; we'll be thoroughly overwhelmed and injured should we ever catch it.
8. You realize that Beauty is not a standard, nor is it a boast. Often, Beauty is a broken, fragile, and fleeting thing, and vanity is simply a perversion of it. What makes you beautiful is YOU. What makes you you is your motivations and your passions and your flaws and your struggles and your frustrations and the things you want to do when you have an afternoon trapped inside on a rainy day and the things you say when you stub your toe and the way your heart feels when somebody smiles at you and the reasons you use to justify rising from bed every day. To borrow from my absolute favorite, John Keats, how much less beautiful a person would be were it to fling itself onto a stage and say, "dote on me; I am beautiful!" (ouch.) Be concerned with developing who you are, for that is what grown ups see; it's the fifth graders who pride themselves on new jackets and being the prettiest girl in school.
9. You realize the necessity of waking up. Of not hitting "snooze." You have people to love and jobs to do and problems to solve and a world to explore and books to read and ideas to uncover and novels to write and thoughts to inspire and yourself to improve and the unequivocated blessing of breathing one day more. You can change the world. Perhaps ONLY you can change the world. So get out of bed and wake up.
10. You realize the value of learning. I don't mean College. I don't mean even necessarily walking into a library. I mean you understand how important it is to know how to assimilate information, how crucial being informed is, and how you can't be satisfied not knowing. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is powerful; at some point we realize that the power from knowledge is infinitely more important than the bliss from ignorance, and should be sought at great cost.
11. You realize that you can't know everything. This is where faith steps in - because it fills the cracks between the slabs you build with knowledge. You're not going to know everything, nor would you even WANT to know everything, so there must be a method for dealing with the in-between. This is the age of information, where people assume that since all "knowledge" is accessible, all knowledge is attainable. A dangerous age, indeed, because it causes us to postpone belief until we can just acquire knowledge that will prove it. It hardens you, closes you off, and shuts you away from what is sometimes the most real and most important in the entire world: those things which cannot be proven by pure observation or scientific method. Poetry exists purely because of the idea that not all things can be proven; poetry itself cannot be proven. That collections of words or patterns of color or varying intonations of sound can spark anger, fear, joy, comfort, warmth, or dread is completely supernatural. Sit and read a collection of Keats, contemplate a Pollock, listen to a symphony, and tell me that it communicates something no test ever could - there is more out there than what we can see. Now explore that "something" and realize that there are answers to what it is. (lowercase) truth is not knowable (I wrote a paper about truth and its unknowability here), but (uppercase)Truth is. Find the One who calls Himself Truth and the thread will unravel, leaving behind the most beautiful picture of how lacking we are and how full He is.
Growing up is not a moment. It is not a physical ceremony. Growing up is a transformation which is often painful, but it's completely beautiful and is the destiny we've been called to. Treasure childhood, celebrate transition to something bigger, and wake up today knowing that it will be what you make it. Work hard, love harder, and begin that journey to being the person you were made to be.