Many (if not most) people would define a grown-up as being an adult. I reckon there’s a big difference between the two.
Adulthood is a biological inevitability. The human body develops naturally. All we have to do is try to ensure that it gets the proper nutrients and exercise to grow properly and healthily.
The graduation from mere adult to fully fledged grown-up, on the other hand, is the result of experience – matched with the capacity and eagerness to process, learn and grow from those experiences. This kind of critical thinking and introspection engenders wisdom and maturity – which, to me, are among the hallmarks of a ‘grown-up’.
Pablo Picasso is falsely credited for saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Had he, in fact, said that, Picasso would no doubt have been intrigued by the concept of “psychological neoteny” : the retention of childlike attitudes and attributes – such as idealism, playfulness, curiosity and experimentation – in adulthood.
Indeed, I hope I never lose my capacity for childlike awe, wonder and whimsy, no matter what my age. If I did, I suspect I would not only give in to despair and cynicism, but would also cease to learn and discover new things about myself and the world.
I get why it’s so important to hang on to some of those youthful qualities. But there are certain ‘childlike’ characteristics exhibited by some adults that, frankly, border on the childish…
Like the tendency to oversimplify complex issues or concepts; the stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge their own dysfunction or insecurities (and the subsequent failure to do anything about it); the habit of making assumptions based on scant information, hearsay or the inability to fully grasp a situation – combined with an irrepressibly romantic world-view that blithely dismisses even the possibility that something could be wrong or could do with some improvement.
I have no major problem with the fact that this mix of denialism, ignorance and starry-eyed naiveté exists – but what I find really frustrating is when it retaliates in self-righteous protest and indignation. This one’s a silly example, but it’s the most recent one I can think of…
Earlier this week, someone took offence at my assertion that people who constantly post pictures and selfies of themselves ‘putting on the ritz’ on social media are perhaps a little validation-needy. He seemed genuinely outraged and deemed my comment to be “out of line”. And then, in a deliciously ironic moment (that I’m sure was lost on him), he went on to passionately defend the individual’s right to free speech and expression! Of course, I detected a tinge of defensiveness in all that huff, but it was yet another reminder that some so called grown-ups would really prefer it if you didn’t point out the elephant in the room.
It’s as if you’ve betrayed them or robbed them of their option to suspend disbelief.
Some days it feels like I just implied to a 5-year-old that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist!
“Oh no, it can’t be! Please say it isn’t so!”
You can almost hear their thoughts.
At the end of the day, it’s what we choose to believe right? If you choose to believe that tooth fairies exist, then that’s your prerogative. I actually know a couple of adults who would like to think that they (and other childhood fantasies) still do.
But a grown-up, on the other hand, will at least be prepared to acknowledge the possibility that they don’t.
“Maturity consists of no longer being taken in by oneself” ~ Proverb