In her April 7th column in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan expressed concern that many adults are not good role models of responsible adulthood. She contrasted the demeanor of Mark Zuckerberg, with the young people of the civil rights era who dressed like adults and comported themselves with dignity and self-respect.
Yes, there are shocking examples of adults behaving like undisciplined children; but recently, we have witnessed some young people able to balance emotion and reason. The young people who created the March for Our Lives were amazingly mature. The centered, impassioned calm of Emma Gonzalez inspired her teenage audience to remain silent for 6 minutes and 20 seconds – certainly a mature, self -disciplined display of adulthood.
I have some sympathy for young people who want to delay growing up. When I was twelve I cried myself to sleep at night because the responsibilities of being an adult seemed overwhelming. My savior was Uncle Sam, a handsome 60-year old, who arrived from Ireland that summer. With the toned body of a 35-year old and the same can-do energy, he surpassed us in any of the vigorous games we played. We hung around the dining room as he finished his breakfast and begged him to come out and play.
Yet, Uncle Sam was as demanding of us as he was playful – for example, he took me to see the paddle-wheeler in town and would not let me off the boat until I could explain to him exactly how it worked. He shocked me by instructing me in the proper way to file my fingernails.
After he returned to Ireland, he wrote to me every month, with the expectation of a return letter that was interesting and beautifully written. Enclosed with his response was my effort, marked in red and critiqued for the interest and appeal of its content. Because I was in awe of Uncle Sam’s attention, my letters became more interesting and the handwriting, more graceful.
I thought if I could be like Uncle Sam, growing up would be a doable proposition – I wouldn’t have to sacrifice playfulness and high spirits in order to be successful. Uncle Sam showed me that a self-respecting adult is discerning about when to play and when to work.
Do yourself a favor – be the kind of person who inspires the young people around you to embrace adulthood.