Adolescence Without End
With a mix of curiosity and bafflement, a friend originally from overseas posted a question on the socials. He was asking about how outright lying and childish bickering has grown to pass for political discourse in the hallowed halls of American government.
With knowledge of the specific exchanges that prompted his questions, a couple of scenes that stood out immediately were:
One senator grandstanding like a middle-school mean-kid very publicly reading aloud a made-up secret note about who might have the hots for whom…
Another senator pretending widely available, easily accessible public information was a damning secret hidden with nefarious intent…
I heard Tommy likes Tina…
And while we’re at it, I swear the neighbor’s dog ate my homework!
It’s true that our legislative chambers have seen everything from fisticuffs to shootings and back again, but that doesn’t make fully grown human beings behaving like entitled tweens attractive or acceptable.
Evidently it works to bump up campaign contributions which, no doubt, is a frightening reflection of the electorate seeing themselves reflected in their representatives.
Let’s face it, we’re in an ugly period in history, and lies and politics have been cocktail ingredients since the creation of both…
For the time being, however, I want to focus on what’s become all-too-common behavior – that of the self-righteous, entitled adolescent.
We live in a culture that just can’t seem to detach from the romantic notion that endless youth is somehow a desirable, real thing.
On one hand, there’s some good stuff to tap. Inexhaustible idealism, creativity, the willingness to rebel against the status quo – to say nothing of the propulsive energies that go along with those things – are delightful punch bowls to dip into. Consciously.
On the other hand, lies, rebellion for rebellion’s sake, romantic flights of idealized heroism, and acting without concern for (or awareness of) consequences are different animals.
Then, of course, there’s the phenomenon of “poor privileged me” faux-victimhood and the practiced melodramatic rage and crocodile tears that go with it.
Yeah, they’re part of the developmentally appropriate experimentation that comes with adolescence…
But to see them paraded as badges of righteous honor by grown men?
Let’s just say it’s not a good look.
Democracy itself is a beautifully youthful concept, chock full of messy potential, including the possibility of endless reset and renewal. The irony is that, as youthful an idea as it is, democracy requires conscious adult input, presence, and attention to keep it cooking along in a healthy way.
Paradoxically, when democracy is working optimally, churning along like a well-oiled machine, it’s wildly thrilling and doggedly boring at the same time.
Because well-oiled machines, much like graceful, healthy relationships, are remarkable in their lack of media-worthy drama.
People talking across the aisle?
Rivals by day, colleagues, perhaps even friends with divergent opinions after hours…?
Snooze fests, with occasional gusts of passionate point-making.
Generally, younger adolescents lack the discernment, sophistication, and practiced capacity to pull off this level of collaboration. (A few years can make a big difference, as seen in examples like “March for Our Lives,” in which motivated high school kids create impactful, sustainable movements.
Of course, in a youth culture built on the shaky foundation of unconscious adolescence, the challenge is that individuals fail to move beyond that teen (or tween) stage of emotional development and, in predictable fashion, seek out and elevate to leadership those most likely to be reflections of themselves – others locked in adolescence.
Hence the prevalence of compulsive lying, petty tit-for-tat snark, simplistic quick fixes, disdain for (and denial of) complexity, the lack of capacity to hold and appreciate paradox and more.
With all that, what’s to be done?
First, let’s be honest: swimming against a cultural riptide isn’t the easiest thing to do. It requires focus, practice, and discipline.
And like a riptide, swimming directly against the current is exhausting and swimming with it only takes one farther out to sea.
The job, then, is to find ways to move in different directions.
What I’d suggest is to start paying attention to the part of you that gets triggered, chafed or activated when witnessing adolescent leadership behaviors.
If you feel either like you’re being swept up in high school pep rally energy or you’re judging someone as stupid or less-than, those may be opposite sides of the same coin that undermines your own capacity to stay present, curious and unattached.
Because curiosity and nonattachment are keys to moving ever closer to a state of conscious adulthood…
Because conscious adulthood, and the responsibility that goes along with it, is likely to be a key ingredient in the antidote that moves us beyond the dizzying spiral of unconscious adolescence without end.