Tag: modern life

Are We Living as True Adults?

“Wish we could turn back time. To the good dope days. When the Mama sang us to sleep when I was stressed out.” This is the main chorus to one of the most popular songs of the past year, which re-enforces a common stereotype many older Americans have about the “Millennial Generation”; they are slow to “grow up”. Statistics confirm that today’s young adults are more likely than the two previous generations to live at home. Across the West, adults in their 20s and 30s are delaying traditional “adult” things like marriage, purchasing a home, having children, and entering a stable career.

A good number of older adults have a fairly simplistic diagnosis of the problem. They see the generation of current young adults as a group of people whose attitudes are represented by the 21 Pilots song. They are entitled, and do not wish to take responsibility in the manner in which previous generations have. Ironically, this sentiment is most commonly expressed by members of the generation that raised our current “responsibility-shunning” young adults.

There are many factors that lead to differing attitudes among generations. Much has been written about how the forces of globalization and automation have changed the job market, leading to less emphasis on stability and more on constant learning. Much has also been written about how the internet, social media, and smart phones have led to different attitudes, amongst people who grew up with different technology, different ways of communicating to one another, etc.

The issue I personally have with the proposition of “growing up” is that what is being suggested to me does not feel like actual adulthood.

The way I understand the spectrum from childhood to adulthood, with adolescence representing some form of middle ground, is kind of a tradeoff. In childhood, as suggested by the 21 Pilots song, a parent, parents, or some form of parental figure takes care of you. They ensure everything is going to be okay, and when something bad happens to you, they are the ones ultimately responsible. However, in exchange, they end up having a significant amount of control over what you say and do. This is the aspect of the “good dope days” that the song fails to mention.

As one “grows up”, they take on more and more responsibility. For an “adult”, when a bad outcome occurs, whether it is due to one’s own actions, or due to a situation beyond one’s control, he/she is the one that bears the consequences, and must sometimes sacrifice to provide the necessities of life. The tradeoff, though, is two things. First of all, one that is truly considered “mature” is given the leeway to choose how to live their lives. This happens gradually in adolescence, as parents give their teens privileges such as removing curfews, or allowing them to travel farther from home without supervision. The second, and, in my view, equally important aspect of the tradeoff, is that mature people are taken much more seriously; when they present ideas, express opinions, and express outrage at injustice.

I have a clear idea of what it means to be an “adult”. Adults are the ones ultimately accountable for things that go wrong. Adults take care of themselves, and their own basic needs. There is no need to keep tabs on where an adult is at certain specific times or to make sure that said adult is or is not taking part in certain activities and behaviors. After all, the adult is supposed to understand the risks, rewards, and consequences of certain behaviors. And, if a poor decision is made, the adult is the one who suffers the consequences.

However, most versions of “adulthood” that I witness around me do not feel this way at all. The average “adult” in order to meet their end of the bargain, responsibility for providing their own (and sometimes their families) living, looks to obtain a stable job. Working a stable job, one must submit to some form of authority, usually one that considers themselves a boss of sorts.   And, while there are plenty of organizations that are “flat”, considering management just one of the many needs of the organization, there are plenty of bosses, and organizational hierarchies in general, that keep close watch on employees, taking a way much of the individual autonomy associated with “adulthood”.

Aside from bosses, many look to, and even try to impose on others other forms of authority, which can significantly reduce the positive impacts of the tradeoff. For some this takes the form of a spouse, a family, or some kind of a community group. This is actually the least offensive means in which people cede their individual sovereignty. At least these individuals are ones that are supposed to care about the individual they are exerting authority over. Far too many people also choose to, and through their actions force others to, designate some of their authority over their own lives to the government.

The problem is, in most of these cases, the alternate forms of paternalism do not even offer the protection of childhood. Most companies will still fire an employee if their performance slips, and will lay them off if market conditions sour. The government even goes as far as to impose their own negative consequences for those that perform poorly. In most cases, so-called “adults” are not even given the option to live in a state of perpetual adolescence, they are just given a shitty bargain.

Unlike 21 Pilots, I do not wish for a state of perpetual childhood. I wish for adulthood, true adulthood. I will gladly accept the responsibility that comes with adulthood, given that I also receive the respect, and individual autonomy associated with it. However, the tradeoff that often appears is being suggested to me, and to anyone else told to “grow up”, is one where the responsibility is taken, but sufficient individual autonomy and respect is not given in return. This is a tradeoff that I am not willing to accept!