Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk
– Carl Jung
The Imp spent some interesting time doing things she didn’t like this summer. And as a (chronologically) grown-up creature, I’m not so used to that. I’d forgotten that Doing / Wearing Things (from haircuts to buckle shoes and long socks) That You Don’t Like was a major feature of my childhood.
We adults (by which I mean probably western, and therefore relatively ridiculously affluent) have a great degree of autonomy over our own lives. That’s especially so if you’re dependent-lite (no kids) and obligation-wary (renting, cash- not debt-led) et cetera et cetera. Indeed, yay and verily, this Imp has been known quietly to compare herself with the lotus-eaters: indolent, addicted and apathetic, lounging in luxury’s lap. Here’s some Homer (Odyssey IX) to tell you something about Lotus Eaters (translated by Samuel Butler):
I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-Eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches.
Or as Nick Cave’s version put it, “Sapped and stupid / I lie upon the stones and I swoons”….
But away from this indulgence and back we go, to the issue of the autonomy of grown-ups (western and well-to-do). If you’re in such a fortunate position, you live pretty darn near the top of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Need”. Think of a triangle. At the base are the most essential things you need to survive; as the triangle narrows, the needs become less essential to survival and more about personal growth and satisfaction:
So, as an adult, once our survival needs (food, shelter, water and sex) are met, we strive to fulfil other needs, such as safety (financial, personal, health), then social needs such as friendship, support, a family, intimacy. When social needs are not met, depression can set in, leading to self-neglect, where the lower needs (comfort and survival) are threatened. And top o’ the pile are the self-actualisation needs (“I want to be a train driver”) and peak experiences – spiritual, mystical, and other such insight-giving moments of the life-changing variety.
Doing things you don’t want to do is not good for many reasons – the potentially negative impact on self-esteem being key. What I mean by this is that if an adult feels that they are not in control of their own experiences over a significant period of time, then they can be reduced in their own mind to the status of a child – powerlessness – by whatever circumstances are making them endure the bad experience (unemployment; a bullying partner; manipulative friends etc).
But of course, an adult does have free will and self-determination. There is always (in the Imp view of the world) choice, there are always alternatives. There might not be a golden ticket out the door, but there’s always another way. I hear philosophers screaming (but if I can’t see them, are they real?). But bear with me: even if it’s only changing your perspective, surely if that act changes your experience, then it is an alternative (and one that is self-determined)?
So, does it follow that Doing What You Don’t Want to Do can actually be a thing that strengthens you – aiding self-actualisation? Adversity is – I would argue – surely necessary if we’re to rise to the challenge of being proper adults (not just chronological ones)?
What’s important is that we see the tests and accept them – that we don’t just peep at them and roll over, weeping. We need to address the things that challenge us – how else can we grow? OK, it might not be a ten-day shamanic ritual of tiger-hunting, but swallowing pride, finding the positive, or seeking a better way (of action or perception) are all the kinds of behaviours we expect from grown-ups; not running away, refusing, shutting the mind and throwing our weetabix against the wall.
It’s good, this grown-up thing – after all that hard work in getting here and putting up with being a child, don’t miss out on all it has to offer!