Adult Morality

7:30 AM

It's a strange phenomenon, but at the first whiff of authority I transfer to an entirely new morality. When I used to babysit my own siblings (back when it was the chore of babysitting and not your regular big-sistering), I don't know how I managed the kind of hypocrisy I pulled off. I'd always been taught to speak respectfully, you know, to think of others first, to use kind words and never, ever exact physical violence. But I was a perfect nightmare babysitter. My version of authority was all chest-thumping and no love. If anyone did the slightest thing wrong, I'd yell, I'd tantrum, I'd haul him off to the bedroom. Because I was older and in charge, I got to pick out the movie on Friday, I didn't have to get apple juice for the babes, I couldn't compassionately put up with the littlest tear. (That would be weakness.)

Needless to say, I am now not like that at all.

But if I was (which I'm not, I assure you), I would have good company. It's impossible to go to Walmart these days without hearing a mother scream at her child to be quiet -- more obnoxious than any baby cry or toddler whine. These Walmart Mother-Screamers are enough to terrify the fangs off Dracula. And they're not alone in the rainbow of badly behaved adults.

Since I'm technically halfway between adulthood and childhood, I see firsthand how much incongruity and hypocrisy goes on between childhood platitudes and actual adult behavior. There's a list of ten great ways to treat others hanging up in the downstairs bathroom, and after fifteen minutes of straight-up potty training, I became very familiar with them. Familiar enough to say that I've seen an adult break every single one of them.

We tell children to use inside voices, to not yell or throw tantrums or manipulate people with words, yet angry outbursts (especially apropos when directed to the children we're instructing) are the norm. Adults seem to feel good when cutting someone else down, slamming someone they can't stand, making fun of others -- which is, in polite society, called sarcasm. We tell children to respect others' opinions and not interrupt -- talkshow hosts are dreadfully forgetful of that little rule. We tell children to love others and be kind, which is why, I suppose, so many adults hold grudges and openly spite other people. We tell children to reach out to the lonely kid on the playground without ever making an attempt to be a good friend ourselves. We drill into every living child's head to obey your parents and honor your elders and respect your authority, and then complain about our parents, backstab the elderly with their petty foibles and smear the President's face in political mud.

I wasn't ever aware that Do unto others applied only in kindergarten, though typical society would have it seem so -- not that the average kindergartner lives it out. You can't blame them, though, when their role models and authority figures break the rules more than they do. After all, if their aim is to be mature, they're just getting in lots of practice.

I don't mean to say, of course, that anyone, adult or child, can be perfect -- that anyone can overcome the urge to throw tantrums, withhold forgiveness and get frustrated with a misbehaving kid all the time. I see faults in my own self, and on my best days I try to fix them instead of excusing them. I don't want to lay burdens on people who are struggling with anger control or parenting in the Walmart aisle. I just think it's hypocritical to post platitudes in fun prints and bright colors and then model the complete opposite.

Adults are always telling me that my family is so well-behaved, that it's so nice to see children behaving respectfully and responsibly. I think the same thing when I see a peer or an adult acting out of genuine love and self-control. A truly mature adult, like a good child, is a rare thing.

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3 impressions

  1. What we need is some good teachers. Teachers that are more willing to uphold what is right. We need to remember that children are the future of this world. When children are taught correctly and have proper mentors, they should grow up to be proper adults that aren't hopefully hypocritical.

  2. Very good post, Bailey :0)

    I miss chatting with you! We need to catch up big time. Email me soon, girl?


  3. I have a theory about this, as a 35 year old who has raised (other people's) children (for a time).

    It's not so much that we actually expect you to act the idealized, perfect way all the time, it's that we want you to know that that behavior is the ideal, and expected in certain situations.

    For example, at home, with just my husband and I, I eat a lot of things with my hands. Honestly, I wouldn't have cared if the kids I raised did so at home, too. However, you cannot go to a restaurant or friend's house and start picking the croutons out of your salad with your fingers, and if I allowed those children to do so at home, they would have done it in public.

    In short, it's not so much adult hypocrisy as it is the fact that it's very difficult to get a child to understand the concept of "appropriate here, but not there", so you have to teach them the idealized behavior for all the time.


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