The Myth of Being “An Adult”: We Are Called to Do Better

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I was at a meeting the other night of similar minded HR professionals, and someone uttered the words: “We are all adults, and we can behave like adults,” and I couldn’t help but laugh. How many times in my professional life do I hear people say that when circumstances clearly demonstrate that, in fact, adults do not always act in a mature and rational way, or “like adults.”

When I was a kid, I assumed that adults had it all together—they knew what they were doing, they had everything under control, and all was well. As an adult, I realize that that is simply not true. We are all making it up as we go along. Most of the time we have no idea what we are doing, and adults behave like children just as often as children do, only it is more frustrating because we feel that “they should know better” because they are older.

All around us we hear managers say they wish their direct reports could just do their job without having to be told, or without having to be monitored for every task or action. We hear people complain about their co-workers, but have never tried to address the issue with them directly. We see staff resist change when it hasn’t been clearly explained or defined.

I see it when I’m driving around town: drivers speeding, running red lights and stop signs, bobbing and weaving trying to shave 30 seconds off their commute. They’re blowing through residential and school areas at twice the speed limit, ignoring the signs on the buses, and failing to yield or merge properly. They’re all legally adult people who “should know better.” We all had to pass the road test, folks.

Basic human behaviour knows no age limits. We see evidence of this everywhere: at home, at work, at school, at church, in the Bible—yes I said that—everywhere. People are afraid of new things, they struggle to believe in things that they cannot prove or see, they don’t follow the rules if they think no one is watching, they want to take the easiest route to get what they want. They react in anger, and are quick to place blame or try to enact revenge rather than deal with, accept, or understand the situation at hand.

Before anyone gets offended, no, I don’t mean everyone! Certainly, there are a selection of folks who do follow the rules, even when no one is watching. There are many who have strong faith in things they cannot see or prove. There are also plenty of effective managers out there, and people who can communicate their feelings clearly and respectfully. All of these are learned skills and behaviours. Skills that require a level of maturity and insight, self-restraint, and open mindedness that many people do not practice. It is time for us to evolve as a species and do better.

I don’t know what the answer is, but personally and professionally I would like to see a shift from the “all about me” culture to a more enlightened, compassionate, and respectful way of life. I truly believe it is what we are called to do.

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