Honouring the adult within

Honouring the Adult within the child is what invites the child to join the club of adults

This quote, which I have adapted from Richard Rohr’s From Wild Man to Wise Man, challenges us to rethink how we understand the process of becoming adult.  It tells us that becoming adult does not happen automatically nor does the process entirely depend on the person who is growing up but rather successful maturation depends in large part on the community who surrounds the adult-in-the-making.

 Wild Man to Wise Man

Sadly I think much of the time we all too readily abdicate ourselves from our calling to invite the child or teen into adulthood.  I think a big part of the reason why we do so is because we have bought into an overly simplified view of the modern teenager.

In this simplified view the teenager is a borderline monster.  They are selfish, they care only about their peer group, they are a slave to their horomones, and they are hardwired to rebel.  In this view sowing wild oats and haphazard experimentation with drugs and alcohol are often seen as necessary parts of the journey to adulthood.  The parent, teacher, or other adults connected to the youth must simply wait out the storm and hope that on the other side of adolescence there is something left of the relationship that they can salvage.

To make matters more difficult, after their teen years, society expects adolescents to be able to turn on the switch and seamlessly transition into adulthood.   Unfortunately there is abundant evidence that this transition is more often than not anything but seamless; it is not uncommon to hear about adolescence extending well into people’s 20s.  We see this not only in the fact that traditional markers of adulthood like moving out, finding a career, and getting married have been pushed until later in life but also in what is described as a general lack of maturity and sense of entitlement among 20somethings.

I believe this is why we need to take Rohr’s comment seriously.  It is easy for us to write off the next generation as immature and entitled but I believe the problem has more to do with us than with the emerging generation.  We have for too long neglected building a bridge of relationship to the next generation and in the process have forced people to figure out on their own what it means to become adult.

What I humbly advocate for is a much different approach.  Instead of looking at teens as monsters and 20somethings as entitled, let’s look at them as people who have an adult-within that simply needs to be called out.  Let’s speak affirming words to them when we see them taking responsibility, working hard, and behaving beyond their years.  Let’s have patience when they fail to be as mature as we are—they are, after all, at the beginning of a long journey.  Let’s also value and treat them as friends, integral members of the community, and not as lesser citizens.

The good news is that accomplishing many of these things does not necessarily require a huge time commitment and investment on our part.  Sometimes it might involve a brief conversation in which you simply encourage, affirm, or perhaps even gently correct.  In my life one of the most impacting things that I ever experienced was when a high school teacher took me aside after class and told me that he was moving me from the back of the class to the front of the class because he felt like I was wasting my academic potential by talking when I should have been listening.  That conversation probably lasted less than a minute but its consequences were life changing.  For that reason I am forever in debt to Mr. (Scott) Christianson!

For others of us the time commitment may be a bit larger.  It may involve forming friendships that cross the generation gap.  The importance of these friendships or mentorships cannot be overstated.  Mentorship is to life what apprenticeship is to a trade.  It is the process of an older and more experienced person sharing a part of life’s journey with a younger and more inexperienced person.  Mentorship involves some talking and even more listening but most of all what mentorship communicates to the younger is that they matter and that they are worth investing in.  Can you think of any better and more powerful way of honouring the adult within the child?

Whoever has ears…

We set ourselves up for success in all areas of life when we understand the tremendous power that words have to bring both joy and sorrow.  Unfortunately many of us don’t put nearly as much thought into the equal power that resides in the flip side of speech: listening.  Even as carelessness with our tongues can cause pain and offend so too can carelessness with listening.  We of course expect people to speak with precision, grace, and humility but often neglect to listen with these same characteristics.  This is especially true when it comes to how we listen to public figures.  Instead of hearing people out many of us often decide within a span of a few seconds whether a speaker is to be applauded or condemned.


I was struck by a story I heard on the radio the other day that drives this point home.   The story regards some comments UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones made about his colleague Anderson Silva who had just lost his middleweight title in a fight.  Jones said, “He just got disrespectful [towards his opponent] and the war gods made him pay for it”.  These seemingly innocuous comments were followed up in short order by a tweet by Jones (@JohnnyBones) that attempted to clarify:  “[I] Didn’t mean to say ‘War Gods’ I was meaning Karma”.


I cannot be sure why some of Jones’ audience found the phrase “war gods” offensive but given Jones’ need to clarify we can only conclude that at least one person did.  This case is made even more confusing when we consider that the difference between “war gods” and “karma” in popular use is virtually non-existant.  Athletes and sports journalists consistently refer to the hockey, football, and insertsportsnamehere gods as a way to explain in shorthand that in sports “what comes around goes around”.  In short the term “sportsgods” is synonymous with “karma”.


What is troubling about this story is the high likelihood that the offended parties could have been able to avoid taking offence had they put in the minimal effort to understand that Jones was simply trying to say “what comes around goes around”.  The fact that this effort was not put in made me wonder about why we as human beings take offence to things people say.  I think that the answer often has to do more with our failure to listen well than it does with the speaker’s failure to communicate appropriately.  


Now to be fair sometimes this is not the case.  Such as when, well…a speaker says something that is offensive.  For instance I think it is perfectly appropriate to be offended when a speaker uses slurs or insults of any kind that disrespect other human beings.  But other times, if we stop and think about it, we will discover that we sometimes do get worked up over an issue like that of the war gods and karma.


I think this has to do with the fact that when we hear someone speak we hear them through a filter that includes our worldview, our values, the mood we happen to be in, and our current ability to concentrate.  When we listen, especially to public commentary, we tend to listen for buzz words or particular phrases that indicate to us whether or not the speaker agrees with (or at least respects) our basic worldview and values.  If we hear something that at first blush defies or contradicts one or both of these things we tend to immediately get angry and/or get offended.  What I wish we could do instead is insert a pause or breath between the act of hearing and the act of taking offence.   In this pause I would like for us to afford the same attributes in our listening that we expect of our speaker:  let’s be precise (figure out what they are really trying to say), be gracious (give them the benefit of the doubt), and let’s be humble (open to the idea that we heard them wrong).  If we embody these virtues we may just find that the world will start to sound like a less offensive place and maybe—just maybe—we will finally start to truly hear each other well.