Adulthood = Accountability

Saturday, September 13, 2008
Occasionally, I have discussions with the Smart Boy about "what it means to be a successful adult."

The list usually includes such things as "get a job," and "pay your own bills," and "as long as you live in your mommy's house, you're not an adult," and "adults pay respectful attention to their franchise."

But lately I've decided that the heart of adulthood is accountability. And by accountability, I mean holding yourself accountable.

Holding yourself accountable to be a contributing member of society, including supporting yourself and your dependents without mooching off your family, your friends, your society.

Holding yourself accountable to be an informed voter, to learn what you need to learn in order to vote intelligently and responsibly.

Holding yourself accountable for keeping your word to others, whether that's being where you're supposed to be at the time you're supposed to be there, or completing a task that you've committed to do.

Holding yourself accountable for making things right when you screw up, whether that's falling on your sword with your boss, apologizing to a child, or changing your behavior for the future.

Holding yourself accountable for continuing to learn, to be a well-rounded and interesting person.

Holding yourself accountable for treating others with respect, for being kind, for leaving the world a better place when you die.

And the more I thought about these things, the more I realized how very many children I know. Children who live in adult bodies, and pretend to live adult lives, but who really are not adults, at least not by the yardstick I use. I myself did not achieve true adulthood in every aspect until I was in my 30's -it's a work in progress.

Of course this begs the question - if all these children in adult bodies are not really adults, then am I required to give their ideas, their demands, their opinions, the same consideration and weight I would to a real adult? Or am I only required to treat them as overgrown children?

12 comments:

Cindi in CO said...

Good post, J.

What sucks, is that so many people I know would read this and immediately think, "Oh, she doesn't mean me" When, in fact, they are exactly who you are referring to.

Clueless idjits.

mom in northern said...

Nice to know that the lesson finally took with both of you girls. I can now go to my grave knowing that at least one thing I tried to point the way on, sunk in....

Just remember that even with "Children" some of what they have to say can be profound so don't dismiss what such people have to say out of hand. Remember the squirrel.

Also remember that most things are just different and not wrong...

Janiece Murphy said...

Cindi, it's that whole "examined life" thing. Sometimes I think it would be a whole lot easier to be oblivious.

Mom, I hear what you're saying, but credibility does matter. And real adults have more than overgrown children.

And while I am respectful of cultural differences, some things are just wrong. Female circumcision, honor killings, child weddings, stoning homosexuals, fatwas against cartoonists...really, I could go on for days.

Anne C. said...

Janiece, in case I haven't said this already... I really like your mom.

And she did say *most* not all. ;)

Janiece Murphy said...

Anne, I like her, too, actually.

But she's not the boss of me!

::runs away::

Cindi in CO said...

Me either!!

::runs away too::

Ilya said...

You got me thinking, Janiece, and upon reflection, I do not equate accountability with adulthood. I agree that it is a very important trait, and I would find it hard to respect an individual who lacks the sense of personal accountability. But I know of too many irresponsible adults - both in history and plainly around me - to confine them allegorically to a continuing childhood. (I un-humbly think that I largely pass your test, myself.)

I'd venture that being able to make decisions on the basis of reasoning, experience and logic - in addition to raw emotions and desires, which is what children use, - is a defining characteristic of adulthood. When those decisions are supported by unflinching personal accountability, we get a role model; when accountability is entirely absent - we get a criminal. Most adults would be somewhere in between.

Nathan said...

Would it be taking the easy way out to say I think I agree with everyone so far? including Ilya? I don't see anything particularly contradictory in his response...just nuance.

Although, I was going to say that I don't think all "adult children" are criminals and then name a few examples. But I got shut down.


Paris Hilton...nope...a criminal.
Lindsay Lohan...nope...a criminal.
Eliot Spitzer? Criminal.

I'll stop now.

Oh, and Mom in Northern...you're not the boss of me either.

::stands there tapping my toe, 'cause she's really not::

::Then runs when he sees his own Dad peeking around the corner::

vince said...

Ladies, be nice to your mom lest she borrow the Shovel of Doom (I know, it's trademarked, too bust to find the trademark thingy) to use on you both. You, too Nathan!

I suspect that I have a less restrictive definition of what it means to be an adult that you do. Under your definition adult = good adult and bad adult = child; ie, a person who is not accountable and/or (per Ilya, who has a valid point) was unable to make decisions on the basis of reasoning, experience and logic must ipso facto be a child. You'd need to create a new class of human that is neither child or adult, or minimally broaden the legal definition of a child.

I'd suggest what you describe would be better called a productive member of society.

One other thing: a person who isn't well-rounded and interesting may be a boring person with limited function in society, I would hesitate to remove them from the adult classification. "Well-rounded" and "interesting" have very flexible definitions and carry no moral weight, unlike the rest of the characteristics you outline. You can be an snot-nosed, mean-spirited, lying, cheating, backstabbing, suck-up weasel and nonetheless still be either or both "well-rounded" and "interesting." Prime example: Dick Cheney.

He's held numerous national government positions including congressman, Secretary of Defense, and, of course, Vice-President. He certainly is knowledgeable about a wide variety of subjects, and he certainly fits the definition of interesting: "engaging the attention; exciting, or adapted to excite, interest, curiosity, or emotion."

But his actions throughout his life make him a piss-poor human being in my book: a supporter of the Vietnam War but one who applied for and received five draft deferments; while Deputy Assistant to President Ford suggested in a memo to Rumsfeld that the Ford White House should use the Justice Department in a variety of legally questionable ways to exact retribution for an article published by The New York Times investigative reporter Seymour Hersh; after President Ronald Reagan vetoed a bill to impose economic sanctions on South Africa for its policy of apartheid was one of 83 Representatives to vote against overriding Reagan's veto; has criticized war critics, calling them "opportunists" who were peddling "cynical and pernicious falsehoods" to gain political advantage while U.S. soldiers died in Iraq; his approval of torture - he is a despicable human being in my book, regardless of his claims to being a "Christian."

There, I feel better now.

Janiece Murphy said...

Ilya, you make a good point - clearly the issue isn't black and white, but shades of gray. I wrote it as such due to a recent high-blood pressure inducing experience I had with a group of pseudo-adults that got me wrapped around the axle.

I think it's fair to say that people fall along a bell curve when it comes to "adulthood," regardless of how you define it. As people age, gain experience and examine their own lives and beliefs, they (hopefully) evolve. There is no "magic age" where adulthood is achieved. My own definition may not be the same 20 years from now, as my experiences lend weight to different personal attributes.

And I agree with your yardstick of being able to make reasoned and logical decisions. However, I think that by using that criteria, we've relegated an even larger percentage of the population to perpetual childhood.

Vince, I'll give you the inconsistency of the "well-rounded and interesting" point. You are correct in saying there's no moral weight. The most I can say is that I don't care to have close personal relationships with those who lack intellectual curiosity, whether they're contributing members of society, or not.

And determining the moral weight of the other attributes, including the behavior of our current VP is a subject for another day.

Because you're not the boss of me, either.

vince said...

The most I can say is that I don't care to have close personal relationships with those who lack intellectual curiosity, whether they're contributing members of society, or not.

And there we are in total agreement. As well as the not-being-the-boss-of-you part :-).

mom in northern said...

I don't remember claiming to be the boss of any body.
I have trouble enough keeping my own ducks in a row.

Oh by the way, I have known a number to very responsible youngsters who qualify as being "adult" in behavior and acountablility. I don't think such traits are limited to any age group or to any other sort of 'group' you can think of for that matter.