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Growing Up is Never Easy

Adulthood

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: Casey David
Does your world view serve you?

A child becomes an adult when he realizes that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong.

— Thomas Szasz

Our whole life, we are working towards the goal of integrating our view of the world with reality.  Some might say (usually therapists) that our pain comes from our attempts to make reality conform to our beliefs:

  • People are kind
  • Institutions work for the good of their members and/or the people they serve
  • There is right and wrong – black and white, no shades of gray
  • Life is fair
  • We get what we deserve

In reality, life is a constant progression towards the ability to live with shades of gray.  As kids, we’re taught to “Never tell a lie.”  George Washington and that infamous cherry tree are held up as the gold standard of behavior.  Unfortunately, the story of George and his cherry tree isn’t 100% accurate.  It’s a bit of a myth.  So we use myth (a story) to teach honesty.  Ironic?

As small children we believe that our parents are perfect.  Our school is the best.  Adults in authority can be trusted.

And then someone disappoints us.

Growing Up

When I was in high school, I became aware that my parents fought a lot.  They also fought loudly with much screaming and yelling.  It wasn’t that they suddenly started fighting, it was that I became conscious of it.  It had been going on for their entire marriage.  As a matter of fact, it had been so bad that they had gone to the Church for counseling before they had children.  Fr. Epstein, who believed that my mother was an uncannonized saint, told them that everything would be all right if they would just start a family.  (On the one hand, Father got it all wrong.  On the other, I wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t gotten it all wrong.)

I took all this fighting very seriously.  It didn’t bother my brother and sister, but it gave me an ulcer (literally).  One day, I went into school and one of my favorite teachers asked in passing how I was.  I fell apart and let it all out.  (From my mother’s point of view, this was an unforgivable offense.  Luckily, she never found out.)  From then on, I had a supportive adult to help me navigate this difficult time.  She watched out for me and although she never specifically said so, she prayed for me – after all that’s what nuns do.

One day, I wanted to talk to her.  Something must have been going on because she brusquely brushed me off.  But I was a sensitive teenager and I was hurt, angry, and mortified.  To this day, I can remember the embarrassment and the fury.  From believing she was perfect, I went to believing she was horrible.

I now know that neither was true.  She was just an imperfect human being like all of us.

Choosing What You Believe

It still took me a very long time to understand that we’re all imperfect.  To be honest, I’m still not sure I get it in my gut.

This practice of believing in people and institutions made me a non-participant in the 60s and 70s.  I know intellectually that my view may be more Pollyanna than realism.  Yet, I still believe that the institutional behaviors that harm me are the result of ineffective processes, poorly trained employees, and not mal-intent.

I can and do get furious at the bank that foreclosed on my Dad’s house.  I get frustrated at the Catholic Church.  But underneath it, I tend to find value in all these institutions because I believe that the people who work in them are as good as most of us.  I believe that they mean me no deliberate harm.

And, I believe that my ability to maintain an attitude that serves me is one source of my ability to not be a person besieged.  If I believe that everyone (individual and institution) is out to get me, my entire view of the world changes.  Instead, I choose to believe in both good and evil.  I believe that everyone has a bad day now and then, but that it isn’t personal.  I also believe that some companies have bad days, months, years, and decades – but it isn’t personal.  I believe that my power comes from my ability to respond to what happens to me.

This is my reality.  I may never know if I’m right or not, but this is what I believe.  It is what allows me to be a person with possibilities, not just problems.  It serves me well.  And as an adult (I think), I choose this view of the world.

How about you? Does your world view serve you?

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Cup o’ Inspiration

cup with steam swirl

Take a short break and consider the following:

“Another belief of mine; that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”

Margaret Atwood

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