When does one become an adult?

In a recent radio program, the host was interviewing an author in his early fifties. He is fifty one years old to be exact, as mentioned during the program. This author has written a book about his loss of a friend, who was couple of years younger than him. The book was about this experience, this loss of some one close to him. The loss was even more significant, profound and personal compared to the loss of his parents, according to this author. “In effect I changed, I transformed and I had become an adult” said the author. “Things that mattered a lot, things which seemed very important and personal and significant, no longer seemed to be that big a deal any more”, the author continued.

            These comments steered me into thinking: What does being an adult really mean? When does one become truly an adult? Do we even become adults in the true sense of the word? Does it need a life changing experience to become an adult? What happens to those whose life is smooth sailing, without any such serious or consequential experiences?

            Each of us can relate to our child hood. These are the tender young ages, where one is cared for. All the needs are attended to, if one is lucky to have the right situation and circumstances. The child can get it wants, since there is some one with the means to provide them. There is the comfort pillow, the teddy bear or the favorite blanket or the toy that one hugs on to. With such simple comforts and in the protective custody of the care giver, life looks complete, secure and comfortable. But, what happens to those children who are not in such fortunate set of circumstances? They learn to cope with limited options, choices and comforts. They learn to make trade offs between what they need and what they can get or their care givers can afford. They learn to make choices between what is legitimately available to them and what they can aspire for. They learn to set goals, persevere and accomplish their goals. Their needs and adversities help them to build their character. In this sense do these children become adults at an earlier age?

            In due course, it appears that every one has to face the same music! Very few – certainly not many – can continue to enjoy the benefits and comforts provided for them by others. Each is required to put in their due efforts to earn that. Once again the lessons of life would appear to be, to make the trade offs, to set goals, persevere and ultimately find an inner comfort with what one can accomplish and what one can acquire. At some point success is measured by getting what we want, while happiness appears to be wanting what we get. Thus one could say, becoming an adult could have much more to do with developing a sense of inner equilibrium in a world of limited options. This inner comfort reflects in our sense of who we are, our relationship with others, and our respect and value system on many aspects of the world we live in. Again, from this perspective, becoming an adult would appear to have little to do with age but more to do with the diversity of experiences. It seems to have more to do with the many intangibles, which reflects in our ability to cope with diversities – diverse situations, economic conditions, cultures, …

            What happens if some one grows up in privileged economic conditions, stable social climate and limited exposure to diversity of any kind? Perhaps in such circumstances – for the fortunate few (very few?) – perspective  on who we are and what matters the most in life, may be shaped by sudden and unexpected deviation from such a stable climate? In such cases, life altering experience, as noted in the anecdote mentioned earlier would appear to be the catalyst, for the transition to “become an adult”.  Does it imply that there could be a few, who may grow to their ripe old age, but never become “adults”?

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2 Responses to When does one become an adult?

  1. krishnan says:

    Sudden and major personal loss launched this “author” into being an adult ?!! Many years ago, the prince discovered penury, sickness, old age and death just by stepping out of the palace. After a little bit of sitting under a tree, he thought he had the solution and later people called it “enlightenment”. Avoiding reality could be a good way to stay out of the sort of entry into “adulthood” that the “author” had experienced. The movie “HARVEY” has Jimmy Stewart growing older and remaining charmingly goofey; a lot better than getting cynical in old age or becoming jaded.
    Even after reaching the sort of inner equilibrium that you mention, not many can blog.


  2. Jay says:

    My first reaction to “Becoming an Adult” was similar to that of the other commentator, Krishnan, who in essence seemed to expand on the pithy admonition,”Grow Up, Dude!”. However, I quickly realized that perhaps what the radio person felt was a loss, not just of the friend’s mortal remains, but of the playfulness of youthful friendship. I myself seem to relate to different friends in different ways. As you said in the translation of BG, satvam, rajas and thamas need not be the characters of three different individuals, but they can co-exist in the same person, each one being the dominant character depending on circumstances. So also, there is a serious side to kidders as there is a playful side to serious people. Each needs a catalyst or occasion to bring out the hidden side. Is child the father of the man (Shelly or Keats) or is man the father of the child? While I appreciate maturity in a child / youth, I envy men who never grow up and are eternal Pinochios, untouched by serious thought.
    — Jay


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