This is a post that has been festering in my mind for some time. It’s one of those rant-posts in which bloggers sometimes indulge, where weeks and months of pent-up frustration spurts out onto the screen like a giant, electronic ink blot on an otherwise clean, tidy page.
Defining the issue
Adults ought to behave like adults unless they have a physiological impairment that prevents them from doing so. That might seem obvious to some, but based on the interactions I observe between individuals of all ages (including my own fits of pique), it’s clearly not as self-evident as one would hope. In the interests of clarity, let’s be clear about what I mean when I say adults should behave like adults. How does an adult behave?
Here’s a simplified definition:
- A grown-up shows restraint.
- A grown-up waits until she has all the facts before reacting.
- A grown-up bases her reactions on the truth.
- A grown-up listens.
- A grown-up is wise.
- A grown-up considers the source of a communication.
- A grown-up behaves discreetly and with respect.
- A grown-up is patient with those who have not grown up as far as he has.
- A grown-up is hard to offend.
- A grown-up is quick to forgive.
- A grown-up seeks the growth of others.
- A grown-up is not petty, small-minded, easily swayed or weak.
- A grown-up laughs it off.
- A grown-up is kind.
Adults behave like spoilt children
I heard of a lady once whose two-year-old grandchild refused to greet her. The child’s parents had taught it that no physical interaction should ever be forced, and that it is always okay to say no to too much touching. The lady was innocent of malice, but also inclined to be overwhelmingly “huggy”. When the child refused to engage, the lady became so angry that she stormed off and left the event – her grandchild’s birthday party. I was astonished. How can a two-year-old child offend anybody? Surely anyone can see that the chid means no harm, and surely no offence can ever be taken in the absence of intent? In other words, the child didn’t mean it. How can a two-year-old ever be offensive? A mature adult would realise that the source of the “confrontation” was innocent, and would therefore not take it personally. If anything, an adult would laugh it off. It doesn’t take much of a perspective-shift to see the funny side of that interaction: an over-ebullient granny imposing one too many kisses on a frazzled toddler; the toddler, with great dignity, rebuffing the affection. Truth be told, it was hilarious. (Interestingly, in later years it has transpired that the toddler in question has a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome, and struggles with social occasions of any kind, not to mention overwhelming attention).
Parents expect too much from their children
Not just their children, in fact. Poorly adjusted adults expect too much from everyone – and very little indeed from themselves. These are the people who expect their young children to clean up after themselves, while they themselves do not. Or, if they do clean up after themselves, they haven’t patiently taught their little ones to do the same, and stand in astonishment when the untrained children leave a mess, having absolutely no tools with which to remedy the situation.
These so-called adults complain about their sick bodies, yet take no steps to fix the situation. Perhaps they make poor eating choices, neglect exercise, or poison their bodies in any of the myriad legal avenues available to the subconsciously self-destructive today. They fail to see that each moment of sickness is a moment of health stolen by force from those who love them. The irony is lost on them altogether when they berate their children for not finishing a “healthy” lunch (which included sweets, crisps and that cleverly disguised pack of chemicals and sugars the shop euphemistically labels ‘yoghurt’), when they themselves make astoundingly poor meal choices day after day. Where will you children learn the principles of hygiene, home making and healthy living if not from you? Yes, they can acquire these skills later in life, with effort and motivation. But how much more of a gift is it for parents to train their children in the way they should go? When they’re older, they will find it so much easier to revert to what they know, so what they know needs to be what they need. Their every day experience becomes their baseline for what lies ahead. That’s why it is vital that their every day experience consists of the very best we can hope to offer, and not the very worst of what we are. When we lazily and selfishly default to that, we create a rotten foundation for our children and make it hard for them to be the best they can be. They deserve better!
We placate ourselves with words, telling ourselves that our children need to realise that their parents are only human, reassuring ourselves that children are resilient; they will survive. Really? Yes, we’re human. But they can learn from us that it is possible to strive daily to be the best version of human we can be, and sometimes even to achieve that. Yes, they are resilient, but do you really want your children to survive their childhood? Is it not far better for them to thrive in their formative years? Childhood should not be some kind of concentration camp from which we’re lucky to escape intact. Childhood should be a breeding ground for genius, for contagious creativity and boundless innovation.
We expect too little from ourselves
As much as we expect our children and are fellow man to be more than they are, we expect too little from ourselves. We give up too easily. Often, we get off the track before we’ve even started the race. We don’t stare down danger, we cower under a duvet and hope it won’t find us. And when we have no choice but to weather the trials, do we respond with grace and dignity? Oh no! We moan and wail. We wallow in an ocean of self-pity and make sure the world sees just how hard done by we are. We are being watched. We are lighting ways. Be strong! Acquire dignity, gentleness and peace.
A better way
There is a better ay to achieve adulthood. First of all, we need to acknowledge that it can and should be achieved. I may not be responsible for any cognitively healthy adult other than myself, but I am responsible for myself. I need to draw a line in the sand and say, that is who I was. This is who I choose to be now. Itemise the differences between who you are and who you would like to be, then make small, consistent changes each and every day to become that person. People have said for years that positive thinking can change lives. The Bible clearly commands us to renew our minds. Now, science shows that we can reprogramme our neural pathways to default to new ways of thinking. If we can, we should! If we can be better than we are, what’s stopping us?
Let’s take active steps right now, this minute, to become the grown-up version of ourselves, fixed, whole, and contributing.
- Commit to honesty. Mark Twain has famously been credited with saying that the beauty of honesty is never having to remember what you’ve said. Be clear with those closest to you: you will speak the truth. You will keep your promises, or not make promises at all. You will admit your fears and your failings. You will humbly apologise and ask to be forgiven. No more passive-aggressive mind games for you. The truth will indeed set you free.
- Agree to approach the situation with gentleness. Make a verbal and mental commitment that, no matter how angry, astonished or hurt you may feel, you will always respond gently and kindly. There is always more to a situation than we realise. Only sociopaths actively do horrible things with the express intention of hurting others. The people in your life are not sociopaths. They don’t mean to hurt, annoy or anger you, so bear that in mind when you react and be calm until you know the whole story. By that time, your anger will have dissipated anyway, and you will be able to resolve your differences in love.
- Be rational. Look at point two again. If someone you love has hurt you, they didn’t mean to. Even when we hurt others, they don’t always try to hurt us back, so simply assume the best, and act on that assumption. You may be wrong. You may be taken for a ride by someone who sees you as a soft touch. But wouldn’t you rather be wrong when you’ve behaved well, with dignity, honour and grace, than be wrong when you’ve behaved appallingly, shouting insults and hurling abuse? No one can be ashamed of having taken the high road, no matter the outcome. So take it.
- Be a grown up. Easy peasy. Stop being a child. No matter what has happened to you, unless you have a serious physiological impairment, you have no excuse for selfish behaviour, so stop behaving selfishly. The simple act of putting others first is enough to begin a radical transformation in every part of your life. Let the power of that transformation take hold in your life, and transform you into a wellspring of blessing in every life your life touches.