The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why define adulthood?

Actually, I would say that in a perfect society, only adults would have say in adult matters. That might well include voting and holding public office. That probably isn’t achievable, however, and setting an arbitrary age standard for these things plus marriage, purchasing alcohol, running for public office, etc., is the best we can hope for.

Most traditional cultures have standards that separate the “child” from the “adult” stage. In the West, we prolong the “child” stage so that our citizens can have a more extensive education phase…but the downside is that people are easier to manipulate.

Children are to Adults as dogs are to wolves. In that sense, social organizations find it useful to prolong the childhood of a citizenry, because it makes them better cogs—easier to manipulate.

I wouldn’t think that marriage and children would be necessary for adulthood, although adulthood should be required for marriage and children. Nor would I think being independently wealthy. Willingness to be a teacher, police officer, fireman, etc. implies working within the system, but I suspect that a true adult would be “in the system, but not OF the system.” Same with artists. Only a fraction of artists will ever be “independently wealthy,” as the population as a whole has a limited degree of support available for the arts. That doesn’t mean that said artist can’t explore mature themes, concern herself with the safety of the children, and face the limitations of life and human experience without blinking.

Why define Adulthood?

I think that the concept of Adulthood is valuable because it allows us to more swiftly sort out the nature and value of perceptions, opinions and actions of those around us. If you are committed to seeking truth, it is valuable to have a way to hack through the forest of differing opinions. If I hear an opinion I am uncertain of, if the person presenting it doesn’t match my broad criteria of “adult” I am likely to discount said opinion until I hear it from someone who has a more accurate grasp of the adult world.

That certainly means I’ll miss out on some solid and reasonable information, but it also allows me to discard a mighty heap of drek. As “unfair” as it may be to sort ad hominim, it’s also saved me a gigantic amount of time and energy.

I remember checking out a spiritual teacher once who had come highly recommended. I liked his teachings immensely, but noticed that there was dysfunction among his followers:
1) They struggled for money.
2) Their physical bodies were not disciplined.
3) Their long-term relationships were in bad shape—more divorces and so forth than statistics would predict.

I kept my radar up high, and over the years watched the followers make very little psychological progress. And listened to them express frustration about their lack of spiritual growth, despite their intense and sometimes grueling work. Twenty years after exposure to these people, they are drifting away from this teacher, with a vague sense that they wasted their lives.

As “unfair” as my standards might have been, they saved me twenty years. Children follow indefinitely, because a strong leader seems confident in his teaching or leading. Children say “I’m scared. Save me!” and suspend their judgments and values.
Children still believe in Santa Claus.
I know this is a bit tautological, but adults recognize each other pretty quickly. Fortunately, they are also usually kind to children.

Why define adulthood? There are so many things wrong that are obviously the result of children playing adult games: burying themselves in credit. Having babies without taking responsibility. Stealing because you believe the myth of “fast money.” Road rage because someone “dared” to cut you off. Obesity because you refuse to take responsibility for your actions and emotions. And on and on. No, I wouldn’t want to try to legislate that the age of adulthood be tied to some standard of mine. I’m not political, and have no interest in manipulating groups to my notion of proper behavior.

I merely am interested in the path that leads to clarity, the awakened mind, and that quality referred to as “enlightenment.” Enlightenment itself involves the destruction of the ego—and right now, my ego is still tied up in being Daddy to Jason. I can’t disassemble myself without risking emotional pain to my boy, and I choose not to do that. Eternity isn’t going anywhere. I can wait.

But between the common human experience and enlightenment is this thing called “adulthood” which I believe everyone CAN aspire to. So I think it’s useful to define it, so that we can determine when we are NOT being adults, or when those around us are NOT being adults. In general, the good and lasting works in the world are created by adults—although children can follow them and contribute.

We need all the adults we can get. Enlightenment, on the other hand, isn’t particularly “useful” in a cultural sense. It encourages people to awaken from the shared consensual dream. We tend to crucify people like that.
There are so many martial arts because of:
1) Cultural differences in rhythm, perception, availability of tools, etc.
2) Historical differences dealing with frequency and variety of warfare, terrain, social organization.
3) Individual differences that deal with size, psychology, philosophy, available time, etc.
4) Specialized differences dealing with: emphasis on weapons, punching, kicking, grappling, aggression, defense, etc.
5) Perceptual differences dealing with: available teachers or inspirations, reality filters, religious preferences, etc.

No two human beings are exactly the same. Even in the same environment, one person might drift toward Judo while his brother studies the sword and his sister takes Karate. No one art can really encompass everything without stretching mighty thin.


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