The Republican National Convention is going on right now, but surprisingly, I’m not going to write much about political stuff today. While I have been too busy with life to follow either this or the Democratic convention live, I have been able to read the various addresses people have given. Mainly, though, I have been watching the crazed antics of people protesting the Republican convention. Ryan Sager, a member of The New York Post editorial board, has captured some of the demonstrations on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. I’m sure there will be more on his site as the days progress.
While observing these demonstrators, I was struck by the large number of young people present. Why are they there protesting? How much do they really know about the issues? All of this made me think about the life-changing events that most, but not all, of us go through in our lives. Let’s focus on an archetypal John and Jane Doe and some of the Life-Changing Events (or LCEs) they are likely encounter. While these events have the potential to change lives, not everyone will be affected in the same way or to the same degree. With that in mind, let’s look at a few LCEs.
Becoming an adult — John and Jane Doe can reach the legal age of maturity, can demand that people treat them as adults, but it does not necessarily follow that they will be universally recognized as such. Generally speaking, when one demands to be treated as an adult, it is a sign that one has not yet demonstrated adult levels of responsibility. Being an adult means recognizing that one is responsible for one’s own life, and acting accordingly. When does someone become an adult? Well, there isn’t a firm age at which this happens, since assumption of adult responsibilities occurs at different times for different people. For instance, it is possible for a teenager to sue for the right to be an emancipated minor, taking on adult responsibilities before he or she turns 18. If the suit is successful, the teen stops being a ward of his or her parents and is now the primary person responsible for his or her own welfare. I’ve put this LCE first as it is, chronologically, often the first such event in John and Jane’s life, but it is difficult to quantify when adulthood begins. Unfortunately, there are many grown individuals who never become adults in the defined sense, because they never become fully responsible for themselves. But enough of this vague stuff; let’s look at more concrete LCEs.
Living on your own — This LCE could happen to John and Jane Doe before reaching adulthood, but more often it is tied to the experience. Whether John decides to strike out on his own, or Jane’s parents kick her out of the nest, leaving home is a major step in the process toward maturity. Leaving home is a huge LCE. No longer is Mom there to wake John up for his classes, or to tell Jane to clean her room. John and Jane can stay up as late as they want, eat and drink what they want, and come and go as they want. But this new freedom also unleashes other freedoms: to fail their classes, to live in the filth they create, and to cheese off their roommates as they come stumbling in during the wee hours of the morning. One of the life lessons that comes from living away from home is learning to shoulder responsibility, including the need to pay one’s share of the food, rent and maintenance. For many Johns and Janes, the shock of having to do their own laundry and wash their own dishes is a cold splash of reality that can shock them into becoming more responsible. The parents who dealt with years of finicky John and Jane turning up their noses at the meal set before them can look forward to a time when their newly-independent children lament how their overcooked ramen noodles or mac ‘n’ cheese just don’t taste as good as the Sunday roast Mom used to make.
Getting a job — The first time John and Jane get a job, it will likely be drudgery at low wages. But life is often not fun, and yet it must still be lived. A job teaches a willing learner to show up on time, work until the task is complete, work even when it isn’t enjoyable, and deal with bosses and co-workers whom he or she may not like at all. And the first time John and Jane notice the difference between their take-home pay and their gross pay, the whole concept of income tax will hit them like a ton of 1040 EZ forms. There are so many good life lessons that can come from a job. Ideally, John and Jane Doe should get a job while still in their teen years. How much better off they will be if they have mastered early the skills a job can teach, rather than waiting until after they’ve finished school!
Getting an education — This education can be in the form of a community college, a university, a trade school, or a craft apprenticeship. Since life is a continuing education in one form or other, learning how to study and master new ideas and skills is vital. Depending on John and Jane’s experiences, going to college may be the first time they leave home and venture out on their own. Since our culture conveys most information through text, two key educational skills are learning to read and learning to love reading. These skills will carry over into nearly every other area of John and Jane’s adult life.
Getting married — Until John and Jane Doe get married (and I hope they marry other people, since they are siblings — eww), their main focus is inward: my education, my job, my money, my dreams, my wants, my needs. But a marriage is not just one person; it is a blending of two lives. At this point, the focus becomes shared: our education, our job, our money, our dreams, our wants, our needs. To make their marriages work, John and Jane had better spend time focusing on their spouses. A truly loving marriage is demonstrated by how much each spouse focuses on the other, rather than on the self.
Having kids — If getting married turns the focus away from yourself and puts it on another, then the act of having and raising kids will continue to amplify this process. While John and Jane may love their spouses (if the plural of mouse is mice, why isn’t the plural of spouse properly spice?), an adult will not need anywhere near the constant care and attention that a newborn baby demands. How many times do we hear of a parent who sacrifices time, money, labor, and life to care for his or her child? Becoming a parent is almost always a Life-Changing Event. In the film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a father and son have a heated exchange where the father talks about the sacrifices he made for his son, working as a mailman so his son could go to college; he claims that his son owes him for those sacrifices. The son’s response may seem at first insensitive, but is actually very wise: “I owe you nothing, Dad. If you carried that mailbag a million miles, you did what you were supposed to do. You owed me everything you could ever do for me, just as I will owe my kids.” The son understands what the father did not: that sacrifice for one’s children is a necessary and inextricable part of parenting.
So many of the protesters I see in New York appear to be young, and I can’t help but think that most have had very few LCEs in their lives. I don’t worry about that too much; given time, that will change. I feel truly sorry for the older people who have presumably had many experiences in life, but who have failed to experience a life-changing event.