June 20, 2011
Growing up: ur doin’ it wrong.
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.