After attending a lovely Martin Luther King, Jr. luncheon recently and reflecting on a variety of conversations since the beginning of this most contentious year, it occurred to me that if we have any hope of bridging differences and solving some of our most intractable problems, it is essential for every person to grow up.
Adulthood is not a picnic. It is difficult, uncomfortable, even downright annoying at times. Peter Pan is a popular story – and a social disorder – caused by our reluctance to let go of childhood in order to embrace the demands of adulthood.
We talk a lot about the growing disparity of haves and have nots, while throwing invectives at one another and pointing to the inequality and injustice of economic and social conditions. Racial tension simmers as a result of our resentments – and our unwillingness or inability to accept life’s truths.
Privilege and adversity begin at birth. If you had two parents who were married; a home that was owned, not rented; and adequate household income to provide food, clothing, a good education and some exposure to cultural events, consider yourself privileged. If your parents planned early to send you to college, you are especially privileged.
If, on the other hand, your early life lacked one or several of those conditions, consider yourself underprivileged in this context. That some are born privileged while others are born underprivileged is a fact. It has become an accepted platform for prolonged grievance and, for some, a terminal excuse for failure.
As children, we have an exceedingly limited view of life. Our families and communities determine our reality. Expectations are set. Our young minds have no means of seeing or understanding any other reality. We want what we want within the context of these limitations and when others deny or threaten to take away what we want, we grow indignant. Observe a toddler at a grocery store or on an airplane for classic examples.
Over time, if you have instruction, correction and patient guidance, you gradually come to understand that others have different experiences, desires and methods of obtaining what they want. These differences are not caused by you, nor are they yours to correct. Learning to understand them, however, is an important part of growing up. Developing this understanding might also be cast as privilege.
When you remain stuck in a childlike view of the world – that something uncontrollable has been done to you, that it is unfair and that you have no ability to overcome your circumstances – you develop a fearful, angry and sometimes aggressive stance toward life.
This, by the way has no inherent racial or socioeconomic root.
There are people of great wealth and grave poverty who refuse to learn, grow and take necessary action to improve their circumstances. The traps may be different and the interpretation of difficulty may vary greatly, but the response to distress is the same.
Similarly, stories of triumph over adversity can be found in every culture and community across the globe. What’s the difference?
I suppose we could cite a million variables, but at the foundation of all is evidence of a growing, maturing individual whose childish understanding is gradually replaced with broader experience, deeper reasoning and a growing awareness of capacity. This development results in a shift. Awareness of one’s capability tends to fuel determination. It rejects messages of doom and the inevitability of failure and seeks instead to learn, to do more, to strive for a better life.
Another aspect of growing up is gaining the ability to make a proper assessment of life’s difficulties. Bad luck happens to everyone. Good luck does, too. Hard work and a refusal to take setback personally don’t prevent bad luck, but they do tend to open the door for good luck to find you.
Additionally, as you begin to see reality more clearly, you learn to sort disappointment from danger and act accordingly. Not every unkind word is a threat, but evil is real.
If you aspire to greatness or have a yearning to be more than you currently are, grow up. That is not an insult, it is an invitation. Take time to go beyond your current state.
Learn. Experience. Think. Evaluate. Assimilate lessons.
Your future depends on it.
-Susan A. Marshall is an author, speaker and the founder of Backbone Institute. (www.backboneinstitute.com). She can be reached at (262) 567-5983 or email@example.com.