A great fallacy of people seems to be that we never grow up, but believe that everyone around us has.
“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside they look just like they always have. Like they did when the were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” – from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman. (112)
Everyone suffers the realization that parents make mistakes and that grown-ups don’t have all the answers at some point. Neil Gaiman takes it one step further by acknowledging that “there aren’t any grown-ups” at all – it’s not just that we all make mistakes, but rather that we’re all still in the process of learning how to be people. When we’re younger, the learning curve is steeper (how to pour a glass of water, how to talk to intimidating family members), and as we age, it evens out to be less noticeable (remembering not to get dehydrated, talking to intimidating family members) but the learning curve is still there.
It’s a big thing to realize, conceptually – that everyone around you was a child once and is still not done growing up. We look at those around us and we see “grownups” – older people with responsibility and jobs and the ability to make decisions about how they live their lives. Ultimately, because we are so aware of our own growth and our own fallibility (like constantly forgetting to file my banking or really pay attention expiry dates on food), we place more trust in those people around us. We can’t see their growth the way we see our own.
It starts with our parents – they have years of more growth ahead of us, and their ‘making mistakes’ margin has gotten quite small. So we call them when we need help and trust their advice. I trust them implicitly to have my best interests at heart (and I am lucky for that, I know!). But I also know that they are growing – and in their own lives, they make their own mistakes. They are not perfect and infallible, the way I thought they were as a child. I still trust them though, and think of them as proper grownups.
I’ve been thinking of how this implicit trust can go wrong.
Politics, mostly. Politicians are the ultimate grown-ups. In their pantsuits and jacket & tie combos. With perfect hair, perfect teeth and impeccable diction, we see them as archetypal adults. They are caricatures of responsibility. The flaw is that we attach this trust to them – this belief that they have answers to things that we do not. They have a deeper understanding of things that we cannot possibly understand.
While this is, in part true, given that most of us (myself very much included) do not spend much time studying the political machine in depth, it is a mistake to trust them so much. They have the same human growth margin as the rest of us. They are evolving and making mistakes and learning from them. Or at least, they should be.
We don’t let them, though. Politicians are not allowed to admit to errors, not without a grand horse-and-pony show in which they apologize and grovel after being caught messing up on something. Normally it’s something moral and unrelated to politics, which is kind of hilarious. God forbid someone get caught out learning that a policy they instituted was based on misleading or outdated science or research. They present certain beliefs and ideals and make promises, and are elected for those things (really, the religion of the person deciding tax legislation shouldn’t matter to anyone!) and are condemned for moving an inch during their term in office.
I’m thinking about this, and about politics and about how there are men out there legislating women’s bodies, and how there are people denying others the chance to marry just because they’re the same gender, and others are defending a woman for being racist by saying “she’s old and doesn’t know better”. The politicians who refuse to backtrack on educational policy, because they can’t admit that they didn’t know better when they started it, or that the research has changed. All of these people are being trusted simply for being grownup. We’re giving them a benefit of doubt they don’t deserve.
Maybe no one taught them (through modeling or direct teaching) that their behavior is inappropriate or hurtful. Maybe they’ve never learned that “the world isn’t fair and it’s not all about you and what you want”.
A friend told me that he was so happy to be a man because he enjoys being blissfully unaware of his inner workings. Whereas I am constantly trying to figure out if my period is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. Health class made it sound so easy to menstruate. The fact that I am a woman who menstruates and frequently has no idea what is going on down there, and will only become more confused by it all when I decide to procreate (emphasis added to: I decide) is why I would laugh at a man (who was not an OB/GYN) who tried to explain something to me about how things should happen.
This brief side note is being made because REALLY. HOW can we be trusting people to make these decisions for us? How has it gotten to a point where a bunch of fake grownups are getting away with pretending to have the answers to everything, even when they can’t possibly understand even the smallest part of it? Their incompetence keeps showing, over and over again, yet they never change. They never question themselves or allow themselves to be taught. Do the anti-choice legislators ever sit down with doctors who don’t agree with them? They probably sit there talking about how horrible abortion and how immoral pre-marital sex is in loud, laughing voices while ignoring the silence from the women in the room who are being forced to lie by omission (statistically, there is probably a woman in that room who has had an abortion or pre-marital sex).
They are selfish, and that’s an inherently childish trait. Children are selfish because when we are young, and everyone does everything for us that we cannot do for ourselves, we believe that the world revolves around us. But at some point, we grow up a little bit because we start doing things for ourselves and for the people around us. A selfish person does not think about others. A male politician who wants to limit access to family planning and women’s health clinics and sex education does not think of women as involved in their own bodies and choices and their own health decisions. He does not know because he probably does not ever think to ASK.
We can’t really expect him to ask. Wendy Davis and the Texas filibuster really just proves that we are going to have to do everything we can to try to force these selfish, uneducated, childish men to listen to a different perspective for the first time in their lives. It’s time to start forcing them to grow up and think outside themselves.
I don’t know. It’s just a really long rant, I guess. If you stuck with me through this long thought, I hope it was worth it. I’ve been mulling over it for a long, long time.