How many times have you had ‘grow up’ thrown at you? If you are anything like me, the number would be pretty high. I was recently browsing the comments of various articles on The Guardian and Youtube and it seems to be an alarmingly common appeal in Western culture. I see it bandied about on TV shows, in films, between friends, during loud verbal arguments about anything from Modi to feminism. Maybe I consume too much Americana, but if so, I am not alone.
Ashis Nandy speaks about how the politics of childhood contains within it the ideas of what is child-like, and what is childish. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/506744.Traditions_Tyranny_and_Utopias’
Childish’ traits are seen as negative, as being against the norm. While ‘child-like’ traits, often physical ones, or reminiscent of the early stages of a person’s development. I came across Nandy fairly late in my life. By then, for most of my life, I had felt like an outsider who didn’t seem to understand how to develop. Whenever I believed I was being most honest, I would have this phrase hurled at me. Or be asked if all I wanted was some attention, which is again something children do every time they want something, but is frowned upon by grown-ups.
A friend once told me a very interesting story about lies. And how the ability to lie and think up ‘lies’ was critical to the development of a child’s imagination. And it got me thinking then about how society builds these rigid sets of norms within which all its members must operate. And if they don’t then their behaviour is identified as being deviant or undesirable depending on its degree. Some norms are important, especially those that protect the safety and liberty of the members. But more and more, I see modern society as a cumbersome chain-mail of norms that sediment over time, building super-structures of law, legalese and morality. It suffocated and stifles so much potential diversity and uniqueness. Dads will feel stifled and worried if their male toddler likes draping mummy’s saree or seems fascinated by dolls. Women will be put off by men who are ‘soppy’ or ’emo’. Each label works as part of a large system. Defining normative behaviour – with markers that range from the subtle and flexible to the red blinking ‘wtf’.
But of all of these, the most pointless and the most pervasive seems to have become the one that about what it means to be an adult. Not only does it do grievous damage to a vital constituent of society – non-adults, by seeing them on the dreaded axis of development. But it is the same thinking, which when stretched reveals how the world is ordered for so many people. Third World vs. First World for example. It is a daily injustice and demeaning that so many of our ideas or thoughts face, when in our own heads, we have this filter which controls everything that will be seen as not grown-up. So that we have to create worlds within worlds, and play games of courtship, friendship and inter-personal communication which define how well we succeed as social beings. How we manage perception. And how we keep the ‘real’ ourselves contained within.
If only children were as successful as feminists, and able to create a nomenclature as powerful as ‘slut-shaming’. Which urged everyone who believed they had a prerogative over the norms of social behaviour, to think about the tyranny they are so gleefully, and successfully perpetuating.