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Deep Dive #2: Thoughts On "Growing Up"

I couldn't find an article in the news that provoked any new thoughts within me this week. So, I'll be talking about the issue of "growing up." This topic has been on my mind for a while now.

Initially, I was going to take the position that people, especially kids, are afraid of growing up. People are taking longer to hit the traditional adult milestones like getting your first house, starting a family, and beginning your career. But further thought would suggest that it's not because people are actively resisting growing up. It's more because of economic opportunities for millennials have been lackluster. Thus, our generation can't afford to achieve these milestones.

Given that's true, I'm going to take a slightly different perspective: one should be "skeptical" about "growing up." What do I mean by being "skeptical?"

One can argue that it's generally-accepted wisdom that "growing up" is a net positive. You get to do all these "adult" things like buying a house, starting a family, going out for drinks on a weeknight, and so many more things.

Generalizing all these examples is that by "growing up" and becoming an adult, you get to exercise full autonomy over yourself. But are you entirely an autonomous human being as you grow older? Do you know what you want to do by the time you are X age? Does "growing up" naturally develop you into the person who has full control and direction over themselves?

Now, this is where the skepticism comes into play. I don't think "growing up" allows you to answer those questions in the affirmative convincingly. "Growing up" is more about being useful to society rather than being a fully independent human being who develops thorough, critical-thinking skills. "Growing up" naturally breeds dependence on and conformity towards society.

I'm not suggesting that being dependent on or conforming to societal expectations is an outright horrible thing. The nature of such an attachment to society can be beneficial and completely healthy if, and only if that society you're a part of is healthy as well.

(Question: would the United States of America, or western society in general, fit the bill of a healthy community?)

Let's assume for this general case I'm talking about; our society isn't completely healthy. Therefore, the attachments one has to our community have the potential to be detrimental to the individual in the long run. If you didn't notice, all of the previous examples of activities I stated about being an adult are promoted and encouraged by society because they are useful to society. All of these activities take money and labor to participate in, which is good for society as a whole. Are you going out to drink with your friends after work? Great, you're stimulating the local economy! You're starting a family - fantastic; you're contributing to society's future workforce! (Obviously, a family isn't started for the particular end I've stated, but it is something that should be pointed out. For all of my high school and college friends and colleagues who have started families, congratulations! You all will make wonderful parents!) These activities are encouraged because they benefit society as a whole.

But do they benefit you? With the examples I've stated, there are immediate and clear benefits. A drinking session with your friends helps blow off steam from the workweek or gives you the chance to reconnect. Starting a family means getting to experience the beautiful and unique joy of bringing life into the world, and taking on the (excellent) responsibility of raising your offspring.

But maybe you're going through a rough time, and your friends aren't there, so you grow dependent on drinking to help get you through the day. Or you could be having second thoughts about a family because you have this fantasy in your mind about pursuing a different path in life with a brand new lifestyle. You don't want to be a family "man" or "woman," you want to be on your own.

You were convinced by society that these activities were entirely beneficial for yourself when, in reality, these can be incredibly harmful or distracting from your true purpose if you lack the self-control to handle these responsibilities. "Growing up," from society's perspective, has nothing to do with whether these established social expectations are even good for you to achieve on your path to maturity. Instead, "growing up" only matters when it furthers the aims of society.

Claim: In Western society, this means being a "rational, informed" consumer. Do you ever notice how "progress" is defined in Western nations? It's always based on how much more you can consume relative to prior periods. Instead, shouldn't it be based on asking yourself the following question: Am I a more competent human being who can meaningfully participate in my community or society as a whole?

We haven't even focused on this question from a kid's perspective. While that's not the basis for this article, I'll leave you with this headline and a problem that stems from it.

What child would want to "grow up" in a world where this is something that they have to be concerned about solving?

In a healthy society, this shouldn't be their problem in the first place! Here's the thing. One could easily take away from this piece that I'm not only "skeptical" about "growing up" in society, but I'm also downright cynical.

That's the wrong takeaway.

I think that "growing up" is excellent if it's done on your terms and that you get to make choices that develop you into the person that you want to be.

Also, the society you grow up has to be healthy. But more on that later.

I don't think that this is an aim of society, so it's up to you to cultivate it.

That's all for now. I'll be back next Sunday!


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