I’m pretty sure I know what’s wrong with the world. Like many of the best ideas that fly through the ether to settle on a worthy recipient, it came to me when I was lying on the couch in the sun.
Here it is – there aren’t enough Grown-Ups in the world. But, if those of us who are grown up all behaved like Grown-Ups, that could possibly change.
Like some others, I feel that the Internet is partly to blame for the demise of the Grown-Up. The Internet is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and although it certainly can’t shoulder all of the blame, it does have its dark side. To create a culture of being a Grown-Up, you have to be able to access good role models that show us how to be a Grown-Up. Not every adult is good Grown-Up role model material, but the more we mix with others, the more we’ll come across good role models. Unlike real, live people who we interact with face to face, and have body language we tune into, and personal boundaries we have to respect, and ‘tribal’ expectations of behaviour, the Internet has few boundaries and a minimal culture of respect. If we can be a Grown-Up on the Internet purely due to our own strength of character and ethics, then we are mighty indeed, and we take that out into the world with us. However, there’s also little to stop us being the worst we can be on it, with barely a smack on the hand as a consequence, and the lure of that is appearing to become irresistible to many, and that is also taken out into the world.
Until recently, I was one of the admins of a Facebook group, and if anyone wants a crash course on how to grow up into a Grown-Up, this is a good way to get initiated. I thought I was fairly mature already, after all I was in my mid-fifties when I was invited to co-admin the group. Unknowingly, I had proven myself to the other admins by my wise-woman words when commenting on other members’ posts, as well as when I made my own posts. I was quite chuffed at being chosen, and hoped I would be up to the job. However, it takes very little time to realise that administering a Facebook group is actually a gigantic pain in the arse! It becomes something done out of the goodness of the volunteer admins’ hearts, rather than for any kudos or reward. But, it does have the ability to fast track one into being a Grown-Up, which could be considered a kind of reward. However, beware – once a Grown-Up, there may be no going back. Admins get to witness too many toys being thrown out of the cot to want to be ‘that person’ ourselves anymore.
My first serious initiation into having to be a true online Grown-Up, came at the hands of a teenage boy. As much as that might sound like a harrowing experience for the boy, it hurt me more than it did him. I can’t remember what the discussion was that was under way at the time in the Facebook group, but it lead me to comment something along the lines that teenage boys were a fairly horrible type of animal. Not being a teenage boy, it seemed like a fair and reasonable comment to me. How was I to know that one was lurking online right at that particular moment, and took exception to that comment? I mean, what are the chances? Probably pretty good, in hindsight. He gave me a telling off for making a sexist, ageist, and generally offensive remark. Jeez! Naturally, I wanted to rip the little twerp’s head off and shove it up his nether regions, but in a flash of enlightenment I realised that I had to behave like a Grown-Up instead, and I apologised for offending him. I didn’t actually apologise for what I said, because, you know, teenagers …….But he had the right to take me to task about making a publicly offensive statement. It was a humbling experience, and I learned two things from it – don’t mess with teenage boys, and being a Grown-Up can result in swallowing some bitter pills, but that’s what Grown-Ups do.
The good part is that even though being the Grown-Up may take a fair bit of bitter-pill swallowing and tongue-biting, I have always felt better afterwards than when I have allowed myself to be drawn into a squabble. That’s not to say that I always emerge as the victor, or that I don’t resent some of things that have been said by the other party, but I move on more quickly from the exchange.
As an admin of the Facebook group I was involved with, I went on to participate in several more exchanges with unhappy ‘customers’. This particular Facebook group had strict criteria for admission, and was very socially responsible, so didn’t tolerate bad behaviour (okay, so I had a tiny lapse once, but I paid for it with my pride). Both these things tended to put some noses out of joint from time to time, and would result in tantrums complete with insults, threats to leave the group, threats to behave even more badly, and a general wailing about the unfairness of it all. Not surprisingly, everything was the admin’s fault. I can only remember a couple of times that someone said “Fair call.” Finding a Grown-Up online is a beautiful thing, indeed, and they aren’t necessarily the oldest people.
The internet isn’t the only place where bad behaviour happens, of course. It can, and does, happen anywhere. The Internet is just where ordinary or powerless people can let out their inner arsehole without much fear of real consequences. In real life, there is a small percentage of people who are irredeemable, one hundred percent, total, and forever arseholes. They are the reason we have more legislation than we’d like to have, and why we can end up with over-legislation (which those who are arseholes refer to as being like a “nanny state”), because the rest of us need protecting from their complete and remorseless lack of scruples. They are in all walks of life, not only amongst the 1% of the world’s population who hold 50% of the wealth – although, I would venture to say that they would make up a good percentage of that 1% . There is no changing their behaviour – they are arseholes whether anyone is noticing them, or not. However, if the rest of us choose not to get into the habit of lowering ourselves to the same level just because no-one’s watching, if we choose to be Grown-Ups, if we choose to have ethics of behaviour, maybe we have a chance to live in a reasonably decent world, in spite of those who chose the opposite.
I discovered that when I consciously decided to be a Grown-Up, which was more than just a nod to my physical body and age, it increased my confidence and feelings of personal power. Just to be clear, personal power is not the same as ‘power over’, which is about dominance, and relies on continually being able to dominate. However, being a Grown-Up is still powerful – and even with the occasional lapse, I rather like being a Grown-Up.
Edit: Warning: some disturbing FB posts added at the end of this. Further to this blog about how badly people can behave online, here is the response I got from a guy to a post I made in an online discussion about abortion. My post was modestly contentious, but not vile or abusive. This guy clearly has a fake FB profile, and I would make an educated guess that he is never as vile to men as he is to women. Of course, what consenting adults do in their sex lives is up to them, however, this guy’s comments are designed to be repulsive, simply because he can make them with impunity in an online forum.