How To Be An Adult

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The “experts” say I need to make shorter videos and blog posts because you are too spacey and dumb to stay focused for anything longer than 5 seconds.

I think more of you than the experts.

I want to talk about the clearest explanation of what it means to be an adult I’ve ever read.

Why is this important? Because if we don’t understand it, it won’t happen.

What won’t happen? We won’t be adults.

And our society will be awful.

Our founding fathers knew that people were awful and broken and corrupt and evil. This is why they put such an emphasis on virtue and moral development. It was imperative that people were intentional about becoming virtuous. Otherwise, we’d be left to our own devices. Which are terrible.

Today, there’s this belief that man is good, so we don’t need to work on virtue. We don’t need to define virtue. In fact, virtue either doesn’t exist or is a bad thing! I disagree.

This is from the great Mark Manson [Language warning], whose writing I really enjoy lately.

There are three levels we’re talking about here: child, adolescent, and adult. We want to get to adult. Most people hang out in between child and adolescent. But we all want to get to adult. Well, we SHOULD all want to get to adult.

When you are a kid, you’re learning about how the world works, it’s all about finding pleasure and avoiding pain. A kids brain is constantly collecting information on what feels good and what feels bad.

This is why when my son Jack was first starting to play too rough on the couch, he’d fall backward without looking, one time he got too close to the edge and I needed to give him a controlled fall to the floor to teach him, “don’t do that anymore.” He was too little to hear what I was saying, he needed to feel it. Kids need to feel what feels good and feels bad.

Then, we get into the adolescent phase, things become more transactional. Adolescents start to learn that there are consequences. Hopefully, they learn there are consequences. This is why parents who don’t institute consequences are crippling their kids. They’ll say “I want this candy bar now, but if I steal it my parents will be mad, and that’s not good. So I won’t steal the candy bar.”

This is higher level thinking than just the child. The child is all about now! The immediate pleasure of the moment drives their actions. The adolescent is beginning to form principles, “stealing is wrong” but the principles are still acted out based on seeking pleasure or avoiding pain.

“My teacher will punish me if I skip class, so I won’t.” This is good. This is growth, but it’s not the end. There’s still a major problem in this approach to life: everything is seen as a trade off:

From Mark Manson, “I will do what my boss says so I can get money. I’ll call my mother so I don’t get yelled at. I will do my homework so I don’t screw up my future. I will lie and pretend to be nice so I don’t have to deal with conflict.”

Nothing is done for its own sake. Everything is a calculated trade-off, usually made out of fear of the negative consequences.

So what makes an adult? Manson: “The adult does what is right for the simple reason that it is right. End of discussion.”

So a child in the checkout aisle says, “I want that candy bar now, I’ll steal it from the grocery store.”
Boom. Done. That’s the order of things for a child.

An adolescent says, “I want this candy bar now, but If I steal it, Dad and Mom will be mad…so I won’t steal it.”

An adult says “stealing is wrong.”


End of discussion.

An adult lives in the world of principles. Full stop. Whether it brings pain or pleasure, it doesn’t matter. It’s all entirely, and solely about principles. Right and wrong. End of story.

An adolescent will say they value honesty but will tell white lies or exaggerate the truth if it benefits him. So he doesn’t really value honesty. He only does when and if it helps him seek pleasure or avoid pain.

An adolescent will tell a girl he loves her, but really, it’s just to get pleasure in the end. Selfish pressure, usually sex.

Adolescents will say they’re generous, and they love to give gifts, but there’s always an expectation of getting something in return. So the person’s generous, but only where it makes them feel pleasure.

An adult is honest, loves, and is generous, for its own sake. An adult will do these things, be honest, love, and be generous, all the time, expecting nothing in return. Ever. An adult does these things even if it brings pain. Even if it’s harder. Doesn’t matter. It’s the right thing to do. End of story.

Where are we in society today? A lot of people are children: “do what feels good now. All the time. Every time. Without question, without thought to anyone else including myself and my future, it feels good, I do it.”

That’s a child.

Most people are adolescents, “I do the right thing if it benefits me.”

This is where I am most of the time, too. I’ll call someone back…if I think it benefits me. I’ll help someone out…if I think I can get something in return. I’ll donate money…if in the end it could benefit me. I’ll meet with someone…if they can help me.

I have to really work on getting out of this selfish transactional way of seeing people. It’s a really bad place to be.

There are very few adults. People who do the right thing for its own sake.

If you’re in a moral conundrum, good! It means you’re thinking about what the right thing to do is, that’s great, you’re no longer a child.

When you start debating the pros and cons of an action though based on how it benefits or hurts you, you’re an adolescent. Stop doing that. Be an adult. Do the right thing.

You know what the right hting to do is. Most of this debate is just you trying to rationalize or justify doing the wrong thing. Don’t do that. Do the right thing. You can do it.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give the Earth itself and all of its contents rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose, never that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, is it best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you. Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, and exercise them whenever an opportunity arises, being assured that they will gain strength by exercise, as a limb of the body does, and that exercise will make them habitual.”

That’s a poetic way of saying, “do the right thing for its own sake.”

No matter what.


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