What is an adult? Stephanie Dowrick asks

What a wonderfully provocative question: “What is an adult?” Someone asked this recently on my Facebook page and not entirely tongue in cheek! Countless people go to the grave without appreciating the gifts that adulthood allows…and perhaps also without some of the exuberance and enthusiasm of childhood that can, wonderfully, also endure throughout our lives.

Three points among so many possibilities: 1. An adult knows they have choices. You are making choices all of the time! This is true even and especially when your circumstances seem dire – or when you believe someone else “caused” you to act badly. The challenge is to make your choices consciously rather than blindly: to see and know that it’s your choices that create the person you are becoming (good to be around, capable of insight and tolerance – or not). This is key to self-confidence and to your care of other people.

2.  An adult takes responsibility for the life they are creating…and (again) for the effect of this on other people. Yes: we are the product of our conditioning. And we certainly do not start or finish with similar advantages. Some of us must spend time and courage healing painful wounds. But at some point we can and must say, “This is my precious life. What am I making of it – and of myself?” Personal power lies in no other direction.

3. An adult lives a life of appreciation and gratitude rather than complaint and dissatisfaction. Someone who is struggling to grow up – or who doesn’t believe it necessary to do so – will be filled to the brim with complaints. And will find much to attack. They may regard every disappointment as a personal insult. This reduces their pleasure in life. Just as crucially, it makes them unpleasant and sometimes dangerous to be around. Living appreciatively, we don’t shy away from the suffering that’s in the world or our own hearts, but as best we can we relieve it and heal it, rather than adding to it.

All of this becomes so much easier, so effortless really, when we not only value our own gift of life, but value LIFE ITSELF. Then it becomes natural to extend care and dignity to others, even when we profoundly disagree with their views. It becomes personally far less confronting to see when we have done something idiotic or harmful and to apologise, learn from it, and avoid repeating the same mistake. (We can afford to make right what is wrong.) It also becomes easy to see what is precious, delightful, uplifting – and to have and give far more of that.

Doing this, we meet LIFE ITSELF from a far steadier and more secure place. We benefit. So does everyone else.

May we ALL be well and happy! May we ALL be well and happy!

(You may want to hear more from Stephanie Dowrick via YouTube talks: http://www.youtube.com/user/interfaithinsydney)   Or you can comment on Stephanie’s Facebook page.

Photo above taken by Brad Harris at the Sydney Writers Festival, 2012.