On being a grown up

The best advice I have ever given anybody is this: Be an adult. The more childish everything around you is, the more important and better, the more satisfying it is to be an adult. As the degree to which the people being childish are supposed to be more adult than you increases, the tastier, more nastily and vindictively satisfying it is to be the adult instead.

I think it was the year I turned seven when I figured out that the big difference between being a child and being an adult was that adults inherently have power, if only over non-adults. I was(am) bossy, so that was attractive to my seven year old self.

On my ninth birthday I took a mental inventory of myself, my mental and reasoning capacities, my knowledge of the world at large and my ability to survive in it, compared myself to the adults around me, and decided that aside from the bit where I looked like an eleven year old (I was 21 the very first time somebody didn’t overestimate how old I was) I was finished growing up. I commenced waiting less than patiently to get treated accordingly.

My thirteenth birthday was the day I had my great epiphany. As I was officially a teenager, my mother decided that I miraculously had an official teenager attitude. The things I’d done exactly the same way the day before which were just stubbornness or disrespectful or snotty or mean were now “an attitude.” Even if it was patently absurd, behaviors do not magically morph over night just because I’ve hit an anniversary, the idea of having anything as irrational, cliche, and childish as “an attitude” was repugnant. So I started the malicious grownup game.

13 is the year I decided to stop engaging in shouting matches. I don’t have a perfect record, I’ve got an instinct to yell back at people who yell at me, but it’s definitely not a record to be ashamed of. I put on my beatific “I’m listening and care very much about what you’re saying” face, then started parsing arguments and complaints. “Okay, I understand that you think I was coping an attitude, but I honestly don’t understand what you mean by that. I didn’t mean to be, so if you could help me correct this by telling me what gave those indications I’ll strive to repair that for the future.” It’s actually really great for figuring out what’s actually bothering the parental unit involved since, at least in my experience, the attitude is an excuse for shouting about something else entirely that they don’t quite realize is what’s setting them off. It’s also the most obnoxious thing you can do to somebody who wants to scream at you for behaving badly.

It’s called the “I’m a bigger grownup than you” game. To win you have to make the other person blow their lid while you’re still calmly trying to understand what’s upsetting them. To really win you only engage in it with other adults and nobody gets all hot-headed and starts flying off the handle. You lose when you raise your voice, cut them off, or tread close enough to patronizing that they notice. (The last one is where I get generally get caught these days) It’s not a fun game unless you enjoy watching people get angrier without understanding why, and struggling to justify it. I often do, but I’m also a sadist.

As a birthday present to myself I engaged in a little of the adult game with my parents on my sister’s behalf. It involved a 2100 word email wherein I cited economic theory, established methods of internet marketing, and sources for all of my data. It could have been a “That’s a really idiotic idea, leave my kid sister alone about it you abrasive morons” email, and it nearly was just that phone call, but I like taking my own advice almost as much as I like giving it.

Having years of experience at this game before I started working real jobs where I had to deal with real people is probably the only thing that’s kept me from getting arrested by now. It’s also formed my habits when somebody’s angry with me such that I annoy them shitless whether I mean to or not. I can’t engage in a tiff if you aren’t either insulting me, yelling at me, or crossing a line I consider sacred (messing with my computer or sibling, sucking in your capacity as a teacher, etc.) That sucks, but I have suckier personality traits so that one’s not a high priority for stressing over.

Should you be called upon to give advice to a youth, I think this is probably best. And should you find yourself in a position where your cool is in jeopardy and you want to annoy, torment, or harm somebody else, start looking for the vindictive possibilities present in smiling and remaining calm. They’re copious.

So this is me, on my birthday, one day closer to that nebulous day when people stop thinking I’m too young to know what I’m talking about (listening to people trash Obama for his age depresses me to no end on this point), wishing all of you the joys of adulthood.

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4 thoughts on “On being a grown up

  1. Your method of argument diffusion is excellent. However, it can be taken too far when the people who use that method are actually manipulators.
    Do you have any advice for someone, such as myself, who has found themselves on the receiving end of such an “arguement” (without having started it) because the “mature” person gets pleasure out of making emotional people blow their stacks?
    Calmly leaving the room doesn’t work, because they want to play the game and will either resume when you return or follow you to continue the “fight”.
    If so, I’d like to forward that advice to the current companions of some of my exes…

    • The game only really works if the other person is already going off irrationally. If you set them up that way you aren’t winning the game, you’re being an unqualified jackass.
      That said, I find that the “leave the room to get away from the conflict” advice isn’t reality based at all. At least growing up attempts to leave the room meant I got chased, or the argument was saved for when I was trapped in a car. It escalates things in a way that communicates “You’re winning” rather than diffusing things. I’ve definitely provoked people into losing it and storming away before, but that was always as a last resort when I couldn’t get them to go away any other way first.
      If somebody’s trying to game you the best way to deal with it is to game them right back. This is how I got my temper in check and broke the family tradition of screaming at full volume when displeased. (And my work comp interjects to call me a liar) If you’re playing it as a game then you’re keeping track of points won and lost for both sides, looking for your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and plotting how to use that, and it automatically dissociates you from the argument. It’s less personal that way, which makes it easier to stay calm. There’s also suddenly a competitive element which does wonders for me since I’m a touch hyper-competitive, but not everybody’s hung up on that to the same extent.

      • The game only really works if the other person is already going off irrationally. If you set them up that way you aren’t winning the game, you’re being an unqualified jackass.
        I thought this was true. Thank you for (indirectly) confirming that certain exes are best left as exes.
        I will try to apply the “play the game back” idea, should the need arise in the future.

  2. I like the game. I must try to play it more often… though not at work, because there I would want to defuse the other person, rather than get them to blow their lid. That would not be cool. 😀

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