February 28, 2013
So there’s more than one way in which I’m sick of being told that the way I think and experience the world is a blight on humanity that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth.
Recently I had a heated Facebook discussion with a friend over this Times Room for Debate entry, which not only argues that religion is not a reliable source of morality, but also posits that atheism shouldn’t seek to replace religion, but to end it…unfortunately employing a host of unfounded generalizations and leaps of illogic.
In the interest of both critical thinking and compassion, can we look at what, practically and humanly, ending religion would mean?
Various cultures and government regimes, at various times, have tried, hard, to get rid of religion or specific religions. I do not know of an instance in which it has gone well, in which the attempt didn’t involve egregious violence and human rights abuses, or in which the culture in question was left ultimately better off. Or in which it even remotely worked.
Beyond whatever personal spiritual significance or comfort they hold to individual believers, religious thought and traditions are the cornerstones of more than a few minority cultures and communities. Who is anyone to say that these cultures have no value, to put oneself in a position of choosing which other people’s communities, community rituals, values, and devotions, should be suppressed and eliminated? If we’re talking about the distinction between religion and morality, what is the morality of depriving a minority population of its rights of self-definition and community traditions and values?
Has anyone really thought about how we would prevent people or communities from transmitting their belief systems to their children? If you knock down every church building, how are you going to keep people from teaching their children to pray alone in bed at night? How are you going to prevent me from hearing God in the wind in the trees or in the silences between raindrops? How are you going to prevent people from infusing art and literature with religious thought?
And before somebody answers that the solution to ending religious belief is just to teach people better facts, understand this: Religions are not arbitrary sets of false, irrational, or mistaken beliefs, or collections of simple superstitions of cause and effect or magical thinking or carrot/stick promises of punishment or reward for belief or behavior (though they can contain all of those things), which could simply be undone by giving people better information. (That thunder is the result of colliding warm and cool air masses and not the gods having wrestling matches, for instance. I know what causes thunder. That knowledge has never yet prevented the experience of it from being spiritual to me.) They are complex narrative frameworks of symbol, metaphor, and allegory. They are stories and vocabularies for a class of experiences that you can’t simply forbid people from having. You can’t keep someone from having an experience by denying them the language for representing or coping with it.
And so unless you’re going to all-out eliminate storytelling, you’re not going to keep people who are so inclined from finding personal significance and guidance in storytelling, or from using a certain type of story–myth, fable, fairytale, whatever you want to call it–to give shape and understandability to their experiences.
It’s not fair or intellectually honest to presuppose that those experiences are false or trivial just because you don’t share them. And frankly narcissistic to declare that, because you don’t understand or share it, that mode of perception needs to be eliminated from the realm of human experience and meaning.
There is bad religion, just as there is bad music and bad writing, but we don’t talk about doing away with those forms of thought and expression just because a lot of it is of poor quality. There is religion that advances truly terrible values; that doesn’t make religion inherently destructive or wrong any more than Twilight‘s existence makes all teen fantasy literature poorly written and abusive relationship-glorifying. It is a medium, not an end, not an ultimate good or evil in itself.
In the same way that the overwhelming (and baffling) success of Twilight tells us nothing about teen fantasy literature’s inherent quality or worth (the genre also includes the Wrinkle in Time quartet, His Dark Materials, and the Earthsea cycle), the popularity of anti-intellectual or violent fundamentalism tells us nothing about what religion inherently is or has to be. It is one manifestation.
Religion is not morality, we should do a better job of talking about what both of those things are and are not, and I fully agree that religion can’t be said to be the exclusive or superior source of morality. But that doesn’t make it either worthless, or worthy of eradication.
October 29, 2012
Playwright Doug Wright posted a Facebook status the other day that went:
I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, ‘My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.’ It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you ‘disagree’ with your candidate on these issues.
I had been thinking along those very same lines myself, with regards to the alarming pattern of statements minimizing rape and its consequences, and advocating depriving women of the option of legal abortion even in cases of rape and abuse, on the part of Republican candidates lately.
That frankly, every time I hear someone defend their Republican votes, despite that party’s deplorable stances on women’s and LGBT rights (among a host of other issues), saying “I only vote on economic issues,” what I hear is, “Your rights as a citizen and presumed equality as a human being with control over your own life and body are disposable to me, and here is exactly the amount of the tax break or economic advantage for which I would sell them. Your worth and dignity, your rights to medical care and privacy, are for sale to the highest bidder as far as I’m concerned.”
But rationally, I know that it’s not exactly a fair accusation, because people are neither that simple nor that consistent nor that self-reflective, and really, really talented at double-think.
That people are, in fact, somehow capable of seeing absolutely no conflict between believing that they love and respect their wives, daughters, sisters, and their gay, lesbian or transgender children, friends, and coworkers–and voting for candidates whose policies directly threaten our well-being and civil rights.
I don’t understand this, but I know that it’s true.
My more vexing question for these voters is, “What on God’s green earth makes you feel safe at the hands of these people?”
Because let me tell you something: They are not only threatening me. They are not only threatening women, gay people, trans people, religious minorities, poor people, illegal immigrants, various demographic groups whose voting patterns they don’t like, and the societal resources that make all of our lives richer and more stable.
They are threatening you. And they are telling you that they are. And you keep voting for them.
How many times have we heard children who didn’t want to be bullies, but who witnessed their “friends” or ring-leaders bullying others and did nothing, talk about why they didn’t? Because they were afraid that their “friends” would turn the ugliness on them if they stepped out of line. And indeed, many teenage bullying victims report that this is exactly what happened. That they were part of the clique, part of the in-group, one of the right people, until they weren’t.
When someone will do something horrible to other people, ostensibly for your sake, what they are telling you is not that they so vehemently have your best interests in mind. What they are telling you is not that they will go to whatever practical lengths necessary, however hard-hearted they seem, to uphold the beliefs you both share.
What they are telling you is that they will do horrible things to other people. They are telling you exactly who they are and how they treat people.
And if they will do terrible things to other people for your approval, then know exactly what they will do to you when they decide they need someone else’s approval.
I used to listen to Dr. Laura. I was young and thought I was a conservative. But, as a broken clock is still right twice a day, I think she said about two things that are utterly true and brilliant, and one of them was:
If they will do it with you, they will do it to you.
And when these guys talk about what they think or what they want to take away from the poor, jobless, disabled, and marginalized…and you think that doesn’t apply to you? Ask yourself just how confident you are that you will never be one of the poor, jobless, disabled or marginalized. (And before you decide, recall that a lot of people who thought they’d done everything right were pretty confident of this before 2008.)
This is one of those things that I grew up instinctively understanding, and am mystified by people who don’t, who I guess have just never been in a situation in which you had to know this. I have always had to know this.
When someone threatens any vulnerable person or group of people, they are threatening me. They are coming for me next. They are broadcasting that this is what they do to the wrong kind of people. (In my heart, I’ve always been one of the wrong kind of people.) It doesn’t matter that it’s not you right now. It’s going to be whoever they need it to be.
They’re telling you what they will do to people. They’re telling you, on the basis of their authoritarian religious beliefs, and with no economic reasoning whatsoever, what they want to be able to do to us.
They are threatening to take away access to health care.
They are threatening to take away our rights to control over our own bodies, and to privacy of our reproductive and medical decisions.
They are threatening to invalidate marriages and families. They are threatening to take away from children the securities intrinsic to having legally married parents. They are threatening to turn back the clock on the progression of equal rights under the law no matter the sex of the person you love.
Even if you don’t give a damn that this is being done to women and gays, try looking out for yourself and your own self-determination for a minute.
They consider themselves uniquely justified in imposing their religious beliefs on other people’s lives. Why do you imagine you’ll be exempt?
Why do you think you’ll be safe?
Do you seriously think that they’re just morally bankrupt enough to do this to me and the people I care about, but not to you and the people you care about?
September 19, 2012
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” –Mitt Romney
I am actually not one of the people whose character you insulted the other night at your private donor event, in footage now made public by Mother Jones Magazine. You see–and this may come as a shock to you, as it does occasionally to people when they learn how much money I actually make, or who think that freeloading is easier to do than it actually is–I pay federal income taxes.
I mean, sure, I can barely afford my rent, my health insurance, the steadily rising cost of public transit, and the $300 in unexpected repairs that my computer needs, and may be applying for food stamps this month because even though I worked steadily all summer, the work was chronically underpaid and I’ve run through my savings…but I still pay federal income taxes. I say this not for your pity or anyone else’s; this is just how it is. I pay federal income taxes, and I’m very, very happy to do so. I have a fondness for the trappings of civilization, I think the social safety net is a good and moral idea, and I’m glad to be a contributor to those things.
But let’s take a look at some of the people who you did call entitled victims with no interest in taking responsibility for their own lives. Because I don’t think they are who you want us to believe they are.
People who find themselves exempt from paying any federal income tax may include, but are not limited to: People who receive tax credits for dependent children, or for being the sole head of a household; people who buy their first home, or an environmentally friendly vehicle; who suffer an initial loss in the course of starting a new business, or who make improvements in energy efficiency to their home or business. People with more than one income source who can deduct half of the self-employment tax they pay on freelance work, or charitable contributions, or the costs of private health insurance or health care if they don’t get insurance from their employer. They include students who still manage (or need) to work part-time during high school or college. They include people who survive primarily on disability or Social Security, or are financially supported by their families, but who volunteer or do other informal work in their communities.
They include people who work full-time, and yet still do not make enough money, particularly if they also have children, to be legally liable for federal income taxes under our current tax code.
Do these sound like people with no interest in taking care or responsibility for their own lives to you?
But no, I have a feeling that images like these, of people who are benefited by the tax code because they do economically or socially advantageous things, are not what you meant to evoke to your donors. People who in fact are doing the opposite of not taking any care or responsibility for their lives.
You meant to evoke a bogeyman image of a lazy bum who purposefully refuses gainful employment and would rather sit around collecting government benefits, mooching off the hard work of the rest of us just because they can, and who will vote for anyone just to protect that status.
And those people do exist–I’m sure they do, because wherever there is any system of benefits or safeguards, there are people who will figure out how to take unfair advantage of it, among the rich as well as the poor. But that is really, really, really difficult to do these days, in our current system of welfare benefits, if you are a non-disabled adult with no dependent children and no work history. (Hell, it’s difficult to get benefits if you are legitimately disabled, generally requiring more than one appeal no matter the validity of your claim.)
This leaves about two possibilities that I can think of. Either that, one, you don’t know very much about how our tax laws work and how responsible, working people can benefit from them to the extent of winding up owing no federal income taxes, and you don’t know the difference between people who reap tax advantages by working and people who choose not to work, and you don’t know the difference between people who work full-time (or more) and still don’t make enough money to pay taxes on and people who think that the world owes them everything.
Or, two, that you do know these things, but you thought that you could win some advantage or approval with a few rich and powerful donors by smearing these people, and so you did.
You either know nothing about the lives and economic situations of nearly half of our citizens, or you see them only as pawns for your own advancement, whose character, work ethic, and well-being mean nothing.
Either one leaves you unfit to be President.
I, on the other hand, believe that if we don’t hang together in times like this, we will surely hang separately, so non-freeloader that I am, it doesn’t help you to tell me that nearly half of my fellow citizens are economically or morally disposable moochers.
I believe, unlike you, that the vast majority of our citizens and not only a little over half of us, both desire and are capable of doing something worthwhile with our lives and making this country a better place, and that valid ways of doing that are not confined to occupations that wind up making you an arbitrary amount of taxable income.
And this is the reason that I will vote for Obama and not for you. Not because I’m a freeloading entitled victim who pays no taxes and just thinks the government should provide for me. But because I don’t like how you treat people.
December 27, 2011
I think I never intended to write this post. It’s personal, and it’s a hissy fit, but one I felt a certain responsibility, the more I reflected on it, to transcribe.
I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome last year, which most of you probably know because I talk about it on Facebook enough, because I decided that it was part of my life that I wasn’t going to make any particular effort to hide, because I had nothing to be ashamed of. (I’d known the truth for several years before I sought out a correct diagnosis; a few people knew, but I didn’t talk about it much, for fear of a lot of things.) I really have no idea what people think of me as a result, because I stopped concerning myself at a pretty early age with what people think of me. Because living in thrall to the opinions of people who don’t have to live your life is no way to live at all.
Anyway, so I’d started to think of it as old news that I was autistic. I’d started to settle in to living as a whole person, without an emotional double life. Then last night, I was rather emphatically asking my mother not to describe a young relative, currently in the process of being evaluated for autism himself, as not having a personality, because such language is often used to justify all kinds of mistreatment and prejudice against us, besides not being true.
“But you’re not autistic.”
Which is where my brain froze up. Because honestly? I don’t know what else I am. Everything comes home to that. Everything. Before I understood what AS really was, I didn’t know what I was at all, except for lost and completely alone in the world.
“I don’t think of you as really autistic.”
This is everything I didn’t have it together enough to say at the time. This is what I’d say going forward:
If you can’t see me as autistic, then you need to revise your view of autism.
I am “not like that kid” you saw who runs around screaming, or who can’t communicate at all, because I grew up. And because we’re all different, because we’re all different people, who cope with unique profiles of challenges and gifts in individual ways. I am “not like that kid,” because, to be perfectly literal, I am not that kid.
We are as unique as the stars. They say autism is a spectrum, but I don’t think that really describes its variety and complexity well. It’s not a simple progression from mild to severe. I often say it’s more like a constellation, or galaxy (which, another blogger pointed out to me today, has the added metaphorical benefit of being a 4-dimensional construct; it changes through time for every person as well). There are people with far more severe problems with independent living than I have, who are smarter, better writers, incredible artists or just incredible people.
I am far more fortunate than many, and not as lucky as others. I know this; you don’t need to rub my nose in it.
If you can’t think of me as autistic because I have so much personality…actually, we usually do.
If you can’t think of me as autistic because you see me as a competent adult, you didn’t know me as a child.
If you can’t think of me as autistic because I’m verbal and communicative…read more about AS. Those things are features of the condition.
If you can’t think of me as autistic because I’m so good at my job…please consider that it’s a job that largely entails “keeping track of everything that no one else wants to” (to paraphrase the college instructor who introduced me to stage management as a career option), organizing, color-coding, and working with a collection of people who are also socially marginalized, passionate, obsessive, highly sensitive, and reliant on consistency and repetitive and ritualized behavior. (Actors, I adore you all so much.)
If you think I can’t be autistic because I’m so good at multitasking, well, I’m not. Good at multitasking, that is…I can’t do it at all. I know I’m taking a certain risk in telling you this. What you see when you see me do my job is the result of copious amounts of planning, mental choreography, scripting, queuing, pre-thinking, mapping out scenarios like computer flowcharts, making Excel spreadsheets, preparation and learning from experience, and excellent assistants being good at their jobs, too. (Stage management and life with Asperger’s are both centered around dealing with a quantity of data that a single human being is not truly equipped to handle.)
You get good at anything you do for a long time. I got good at my life when I stopped trying to live one that I realized I could never have.
If you can’t believe I’m autistic, what on God’s green earth do you think I am? Because I sure as hell failed at being normal.
I’m autistic. There’s not another or a better word for what I am. It’s one I searched long and fought hard for.
If you can’t think of me as autistic, it’s not so much for my sake that I care, but watch out that it’s not because you can’t believe that autistic people can be intelligent, kind, good-humored, good friends, good at our jobs, capable of love, highly-skilled or talented, complete human beings. Because if your prejudice is that autistic people can’t be these things, you take chances for jobs, education, friendships, and quality of life away from autistic people who are a whole lot less lucky than I am.
November 20, 2011
There was this guy…
(Here’s a link to better visibility and a transcription, along with a great point by point response.)
And then I saw this one today…
And that’s not even everyone in my Facebook news feed, let alone some corners of the internet where I don’t hang out, suggesting that the real problem with all these people bitching, whining, and complaining, is that they “just don’t want to work.”
Let’s get a few things sorted out, internet critics of Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement:
Protesting injustice and corruption is not the same as “just not wanting to work.”
Calling attention to it when something is seriously wrong is not the same as “not wanting to work.”
Standing up for your rights is not the same as “not wanting to work.”
Doing any of those things is not even a sign of somebody “just not wanting to work.”
Saying that “what is being done to us and our communities is wrong,” or that “the conditions under which we’re being expected to make ends meet are crushingly unsustainable,” is not the same as “not wanting to work,” nor a sign that somebody just doesn’t want to work.
Pointing it out when an entire system has become radically unfair, or that the people who *did not cause a global economic collapse* are the ones being disproportionately punished for it, is not “just making excuses” or “not taking responsibility for your own life” or “wanting to blame somebody else for all your mistakes.”
So you can think that the OWS protesters are dirty hippies. You can resent them taking up park space and making too much noise. You can dislike their tactics and criticize their vagueness, disorganization, and lack of concrete goals or actual policy proposals. You can think they’re misguided and wrong.
But do not slander them as “just not wanting to work.” They’re doing the work of calling attention to major injustice and keeping the tradition of protest and dissent alive in this country.
As for the people on the 99% Tumblr–not the Occupy campers–it takes all of 20 minutes to write a screed on a piece of paper, take a picture, and put it on the internet, so you really have no basis whatsoever to judge these people’s use of their time or decide that they’re putting insufficient energy into finding or keeping a job or working for their own futures.
Telling a story on the internet is not the same as not wanting to work. Telling the truth about how hard things are for most people in America right now is not the same as not wanting to work.
Daring to say that “the circumstances that allowed this to happen to me are not okay” is not the same as not wanting to work.
The thinking that says that it is, is a relic of the way we were treated in middle school–that somebody speaking up about unfairness or calling attention to a problem was shamed as guilty of creating a problem where there wasn’t any when no one was speaking up.
I guess a lot of people learned that lesson well. I didn’t.
A lot of the Occupy and 99% protesters are college graduates or have advanced degrees. You really think they dragged themselves through that many years of school, and the work and expense involved, because they “just didn’t want to work?” A lot of them went deep into debt for their college educations. You think they did that because they *didn’t* want to get a job? Or because they believed parents, teachers, and employers who told them that they needed a college degree *in order to get a good job* these days? Do you really think that what they’re doing now is easier than working a regular job, earning a living and going about their daily lives? Do you really think they’d all still be out there, with winter coming, if there were enough jobs paying livable wages to go around and they could just go get one?
When the economy first went into recession and unemployment spiked, many of these same people now protesting and occupying–including myself–yelled for a new WPA and Federal Theater Project, for the government to directly create jobs and put people to work. We wanted desperately to work–to put the economy back together, to put the country back together, to contribute in meaningful and permanent ways to our culture and future.
We begged to be allowed to work, to do the work that this country needed done.
But our government didn’t go that route…it mostly tried instead to entice private enterprise into bringing jobs back. Private enterprise didn’t come through with that.
And now you say that we “just don’t want to work.” It makes the irony-processing center of my brain freeze up.
It might be funny if it didn’t hurt so much.
August 25, 2011
Last summer, I wrote a post rather emotionally detailing my issues with the thinking behind a new reality show, NERD GIRLS, which was then in the casting process. That post (Real nerd girls; June 2, 2010) has by far and away generated the most page views to my blog of anything that I’ve written…though not always in the way I might’ve imagined or intended.
See, WordPress has this nifty feature whereby you can see which search engine terms are bringing readers to your blog. The following are some of the actual phrases that internet surfers have entered into search engines which brought them to my post “Real nerd girls.”
“real nerd girls” (Okay, fair enough.)
“actual nerdy girls”
“real pretty nerd ladies”
“hot nerd girl not real nerd” (Yeah, well, sorry to disappoint you.)
“sexy girl in renaissance dress fuck” (I admit to being particularly impressed by this searcher’s ability to spell “renaissance” correctly.)
“hot actual nerd girls?” (The tone of that question mark is just so forlorn….)
“nerd girls in short skirts”
“live nerd girls looking for me” (Uh, no.)
“romantic girls girls hot sexy just engineers real” (Dude… )
“fetish pics from women in waders” (……. )
But then there was one that actually broke my heart.
“I don’t want to be a nerd anymore.”
I have no way of knowing who the searcher was who made this request, and I rather doubt that he or she is still reading, obviously having not found the solution here. But, I don’t know, just in case…or in case anyone else comes looking…
At risk of sounding patronizing, which is not my intention…I know how hard it is. I really do. I won’t try to minimize what you’re going through, because I’m sure you’ve got enough people trying to do that. I remember only too well what it’s like to feel awkward, ugly, left out, and like no one gives a damn about you.
But I can’t tell you how not to be a nerd, because I don’t know…and I’m not sure I’d tell you even if I knew. Because here’s what I do know:
High school (or, god forbid, middle school?) is not the best time of your life. Do not believe anyone who tells you it is, or that it should be. Life gets far better for nerds after high school in most cases. The adult world is much, much kinder to nerds than the adolescent world is.
Nerds are not superficial beings. What makes you a nerd isn’t on the surface, so there’s nothing you can do to yourself cosmetically that will make you not a nerd. Not makeup or prettier hair. Not better clothes, cuter shoes, or any amount of waxing or plucking. Not mani/pedicures, piercings or tattoos. Some of the most sexy and attractive people I know are still nerds. If you’re a nerd, you’re a nerd all the way through.
Nerds believe that knowledge matters, that information matters, and that truth matters. You might manage to hide or suppress that belief for social convenience, for a limited amount of time, but I doubt you can make yourself unbelieve it.
Nerds are passionate. Nerds are intensely interested in how the world works. Nerds thrive in places where bottomless passion is valued rather than scorned. Nerds care about the world around them.
Nerds tend to be very, very good at what they do, and doing something they love, because they do it for its own sake and not for what other people think. (And we don’t just do science or technology, but also all the arts and humanities, teaching, politics…anything that takes passion and attention to detail. Don’t let anyone try to push you into science or math just because you’re smart if that’s not what you want. I know dancers and actors who are Ivy League grads with higher SAT scores than me. You don’t owe anyone whatever use of your intelligence they happen to want from you.)
Nerds are in touch with their own inner lives.
Nerds never lose the ability to be amazed.
Nerds are genuine. Nerds aren’t ashamed to be sincere.
Nerds aren’t embarrassed to take things seriously, but also know how not to take themselves too seriously.
Because nerds aren’t addicted to popularity or social approval, they’re better at standing up for what’s right, and standing up for other people, even when it’s unpopular.
And in my experience with people, because nerds remember how hard it was to be young, they make nicer adults.
So to not be a nerd anymore, you’d have to somehow smother your curiosity, your sense of wonder, your joy for whatever it is that you love, your empathy, sincerity, and inclination to think for yourself. Now, you MIGHT be able to accomplish that–again, I wouldn’t know how–but my strong suspicion is that, much like the making of a Horcrux, it might seem like a cool idea from the outset, but the actual process would do such violence to the integrity of your soul that it would be soooo not worth it in the end.
Please reconsider? At least just give it some time. Because all the happiest people I know are the ones who have figured out how to accept themselves for who they truly are. And most of the very most wonderful people I know are nerds.
June 20, 2011
I feel like responding to a post by another WordPress blogger friend which I like a great deal, although I don’t agree with it in every particular. In Letter to All You Old People, soozling asks what’s so wrong with not growing up, when grownups are just as petty and insecure as high-schoolers, unhappy and condescending, and screw things up just as badly as kids.
I wonder why we have to define growing up to be such a terrible thing.
I’ve enjoyed growing up. I like being in control of my own life. I was led to believe as a child that growing up would mean accepting a life revolving around drudgery, conforming and submitting to other people’s arbitrary and stupid rules, and coping without complaint with a job that would probably make me miserable. And so at one point, I swore that I would never grow up. Adults as far as I could see were shallow, unreliable, untrustworthy control freaks, and I would never be one.
Thankfully, I figured out that it was a big lie. We do have a say in how we live, how we approach the world, and how we treat people, no matter what age we are. Thankfully, I know both old people and young people who are wise and compassionate (and both old and young people who are mean and incompetent). I do think that (most) people gain depth and insight with age. Adulthood does not consist of unquestioning submission to petty cruelty, daily humiliation, and the whim and insecurity of authority figures.
Growing up truly isn’t so bad. But we tell kids all the wrong things about it. When we tell them that their needs, desires and dreams don’t matter; that they just shouldn’t try because they won’t be allowed to succeed; that passion, creativity and joy are unrealistic; that they should expect and accept being made miserable by their job and constantly humiliated by other people, that sensitivity is weak, that hatred of injustice is immature…we actually don’t prepare them well for the real world, where there is nothing but possibility; change is the only constant; where there are not two or three academic tracks but a hundred thousand ways to succeed at life, and finding the right one for you is not a matter of passively following dictates or scoring the right way on some test, but of being honest with yourself…of thinking the way you think, not how someone else wants you to think; and where very often the people who win are the ones who just don’t ever give up.
There’s no reason why growing up needs to mean losing one’s sense of openness, wonder, and hope. I pity the people who choose to live as if it does.
Furthermore, the people who teach kids to disbelieve in themselves, that indifference and conformity are easier, that cruelty and humiliation of the vulnerable are normal, that other people’s prejudices count more than their own hearts, that this is what maturity means…these people are not disinterested or objective. They have a huge stake in keeping things the way they are. They are dangerous, we should not listen to them, and we should not teach children to listen to or respect them.
I don’t want to unfairly malign all old people, but I’ll say this: Dear everyone who tells my generation to “grow up…” If you didn’t make it look miserable, maybe we would. But we’re interested in a different kind of life and a different kind of world.