What is it to grow up

What does it mean to grow up emotionally? When you ask a person how old they are and how old they feel, more often than not, the numbers will be different.

For most of my twenties, I didn’t feel that different from my teen years. I didn’t live that differently either, except that I was responsible for my own apartment. My 30s didn’t feel different from my twenties, but were definitely different than my teens. At 43, my life seems remote from these earlier decades, but while the change is apparent now, when the change occurred remains elusive.

But it’s not that my idealism has lessened, but my sense of being able to bring about that idealism in the world, that’s what changed.

Part of it is likely from movies and pop culture – 30 used to be a big number – the 1960’s cry of trust no one over 30. Well, until the 60’s youth became 30 so the 30 of the 1960’s becomes the 40 of the 1980’s. But now, now it seems that 50 is the new 30, 60 the new 40. Will the boomers ever stop dominating ageism and accept they are older and are not the sole group entitled to the world stage?

How much of aging is feeling the age of the day? Feeling that your generation is driving the age, rather than being by-passed?

Even as adults, we experience things that make us feel like children.

Being called to the boss’s office feels no different than being called to the principal’s office.

In fact, you even end up feeling smaller and less powerful walking to the bosses office – as if you’re defeating yourself before you close the door behind you.

Aside: I read once that keeping cats and dog as pets, fed, protected, played with and petted keeps the animal in a childhood state of their development. Well kept dogs and cats are generally playful and affectionate throughout their lives while cats and dogs that experience hardships like bad owners or being feral, they tend to not be affectionate and playing is practice for hunting or fighting.

So, as long as we as adults reduce each other to childhood states, then there are no grown ups – both the workplace boss is as the schoolyard bully and the victimized adult is as the victimized child.

The observation that I have long made is that we cannot eliminate bullying in the schoolyard, or else the children won’t be prepared for the adult workplace, is sadly and tragically true.

But, I am finding that less funny now.

In some ways, bulling between children is easier to cope with because we were all children with no authority over each other – the bully exerts power of size or numbers over others, but has no authority to do so.

As, as an adult, when your bully is your boss, they exert both power and authority over you, making it much more difficult to defend yourself, because the authority of the boss’ position means that the employee is up against not only the authority, but the entitlement to authority – and bullies of any age are enamored with their entitlements, which, they take as their due more than merely their ability to force themselves upon you.

As a child in school, I easily handled bullies. I was usually taller and heavier than  the bullies who picked on friends of mine or more rarely, who picked on me.

When the fighting was brought to the attention of teachers or administration, despite being the person who threw the first punch, I was never suspended or had detention; because I could explain and justify my actions as being in defense of myself or more usually, others; and against generally known bullies.

Because I felt that my actions were correct, I had no difficulties as a child or teen talking to the authority adult figure as a peer. I was never picked last for sports, I was always picked first and universally to be the referee or umpire by my peers.

Aside: I challenged a teacher in grade 11 gym by taking an umbrella out to play soccer in the rain.  The policy and practice had always been that the girls did not go outside for gym in the rain. I was offered the choice of putting the umbrella away or going to the office. Breaking with decades of class clown tradition, I went to the office.

The principal tried to cajole me by asking how much sense it makes to play soccer with an umbrella and I replied, the same amount of sense that playing in the rain was.

He then tried to convince me that regardless of the policy and past practice, that we had to allow teachers the authority to make decisions.

To which, I responded that the last time I had followed orders, the gym teacher had us run backwards across the field, and that I ended up falling over someone else who tripped, landed on the small of my back and ended up hurt – and, as it turned out, with lifetime back problems.

The smile ran off his face, and even though I had to sit in the “bad boy chairs” outside the office, I felt that I had won a victory. Plus, it was fun the aftermath scandal of me, the goody two shoes girl, being in the bad boy chairs.

So, as a child, I learned by experience and by my rearing, to question authority, especially when said authority was questionable or dubious to begin with.

Which becomes a minefield as an adult, when you realize, how little genuine authority that there is – and most of it is artificially created and unearned though workplace organization charts and the social pecking order of mean girls.

When bulling occurs in the workplace, the person who is blamed is the victim who stands up and says no more. In the workplace, it seems that the naming of a problem becomes the problem to solve.

It seems that the only way to be an adult, is to let go of the childhood hurts and triggers – so that when another adult behaves inappropriately and pushes those childhood buttons; that you have already disabled the button – and can maintain grown up conduct in the current situation.

All the workplace conflicts come down to the same core issues as playground conflict – who gets to play in the group and who doesn’t. Who’s in and who’s out.

Being an individual and not conforming to the group is the quickest way to being out – and unlike when you’re a kid, there are no grown ups to restore order and resolve the conflict.

When it’s workplace bullying, there is no resolution, just ever worsening bullying until you quit or die. Because bullies will do whatever it takes to continue to get to be bullies, they don’t care about people or productivity or the corporate culture.

They want the people who complain to be isolated – alone, it’s harder to fight back, defend yourself or even fend off attacks. They want the potential allies and witnesses to be too intimidated to stand as witnesses, for fear of being the next victim. So instead of standing together, we are divisible and one victim is thrashed and tormented while the others watch, silent so as to not draw fire and suffer the dread and worry about being next, or perhaps relief that the bully might be sated for a while.

But growing up is about risk and responsibility, and we have a responsibility, obligation even, to uphold the social contract, the workplace policies, the law of the land.

It’s not about skating by and avoiding trouble, all for yourself and everyone else can look out for themselves,  it’s about fighting the good fight, making a difference in the world, it’s about being cooperative, it’s about avoiding regrets and being the change you want to see in the world.

For me, that means, I do not allow bullies to win.

The human experience of the world is no longer nature, red in tooth and claw – that’s not what has gotten us to where we are today – cooperative behaviours are what has allowed humans to become the apex species of a world that, frankly, operates better without people altering the landscape as we have.

It’s our ability to cooperate and be more than the sum of our parts, to defer gain and pleasures to the future while we sacrifice and make an effort now.

What purpose is there to working for a better future, if we are just going to continue tolerating bullying, inequality and unfairness in the here and now? When, we could take a stand and make the present better and the future even brighter.

6 thoughts on “What is it to grow up

  1. Speaking of the 60’s and people who don’t grow old: about the best example I–and actually the only example–I can think of is Keith Richards. He dresses the ame way, talks the same way; and I even saw a picture of him hanging laundry out on the balcony to dry when he was on tour with the Stones. Evidently he washes his clothes in the sink in times like that. I really like the guy. And my god is he funny.

  2. Keep fighting, not that you need my encouragement to do what you have to do, but fight on for those others who stand aside and let it happen. Sorry it had to be you, though. The only advice I was given as a child was ‘ignore them, if they don’t get what they want, they will stop.’ Yeah, ma, I’m not so good at ignoring being kicked and chased. I didn’t get punished for fighting back, though – and that additional unfairness would have enraged me: so maybe I have the slightest idea of how you feel after putting up with it so long with no result.

    • Ignoring only works if what the bully wants is attention. if they want to terrorize you, ignoring won’t work, because what they want is to keep after you – your participation isn’t needed for that.

      There was a rather long and convoluted bully incident in high school, and, at the end of the school year, the bully and her toadies saw me alone and took their last shot.

      They demanded to know – after months of no substantial contact – whether or not I had been suspended for any period of time, as they had been after I stopped this bully from beating on a younger friend.

      I said that no, I had not been suspended – to which, the bully replied, that’s unfair, you were fighting too.

      So I said, I agree, it wasn’t fair, we all should have been suspended.

      Then I sat back and watch the bully try to escalate the argument into a fight, with her in the odd position of now arguing that it was right I hadn’t been punished.

      It was comical. I never even looked up at her from my book, I kept reading and ignoring the bully and her bunch of toadies while they posed and blustered until my school bus arrived.

  3. sorry about that…when I was 14 in high school, a girl nearly three times my size went around school saying she was going to beat me up. I left campus every day at lunch rather than take her on. One day my mom found out and took me to the principle to discuss it. The principle said if the girl did beat me up, I wasn’t allowed to defend myself–I should just curl up in a ball and wait for help. My mother told the woman there was no way in hell her daughter was going down without a fight–that I might go down, but I’d take a piece of the girl with me.

    They gave me a legitimate pass to leave school everyday when I wasn’t in class. They didn’t bother the bully.

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