The Misfortune of Growing Up

I recently came across one of my old diaries from when I was nine years old, and while reading my accounts of a vacation to Mexico, I concluded that children aren’t much different from adults. Although the diary dated back to almost a decade ago (it’s a miracle that I still have it), reading my simple sentences and blunt descriptions somehow brought me back to the moment. I vividly remember how the ocean had too much seaweed, how beautiful the sunset was, how delicious the “Mexican Pancakes” were. And I’m certain that, if I were to go back and relive the same experience as my older self, I would have felt the exact same emotions I had as a nine-year-old. Maybe these emotions would now be dressed up in much fancier language within my thoughts and writing, and maybe I would understand the greater implications and impact of my experiences as I battle with the mental baggage of memories that gets heavier each year, but deep with my soul I would be the exact same person.

When we are born, our brain possesses the greatest amount of neurons it will ever have: 100 billion, ready to be used. But they are incredibly weak and inexperienced, just like their landlord. Over time, the brain expands are the neurons get bigger and use the plethora of new environmental stimuli and input to create trillions of neural connections. Repeated stimuli increase speed and efficiency of neurotransmitters, and we get better and better at living. When at first out bodies had been driven by pure human instinct in order to survive, we learn by imitation and our freedom of thought and action expands. Generally, our sensory perception of the world stays the same throughout most of our lives. Our visual, sensory and auditory receptors work in the same ways when we are children as when we are adults. Yet our perceptions of the world change significantly. Some might say that knowledge and wisdom are responsible for this change, but I think it’s a bit different.

There’s a popular saying that “knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” Essentially, then, wisdom is developed from the rational application of knowledge and experience. Wisdom is a debated topic, though. Some say wisdom comes from knowing that you have none. Others say that it comes from understanding that there is no such thing as knowledge. But it’s almost always associated with getting older and gaining experiences that cannot be learned from books. It’s almost like mathematics. You can memorize the formulas, equations, and rules all you want, but true understanding of math only comes when you can solve problems. My definition of wisdom is the justified understanding that there are no true rules within humanity; that there is no right way to define the world but also understanding it’s uncertainty. This means, then, that adults aren’t very wise, but children potentially could be.

When, for example, a child sees his parents for the first time, he has no knowledge that there are millions of similar smiling parents out there, hovering over their child’s crib. When a child falls off her red tricycle and skins her knees, she doesn’t know that her experience as an iconic image that is very commonly associated with growing up. When a child feels a deep sense of loss when she is separated from her parents for the very first time, she does not know that this is a natural neurological response granted to her through evolution. In short, a child’s view of the world is very, very narrow. Every moment of their lives is special to them. They don’t know that their lives fit into some greater statistic or trend. They don’t over-analyze or over-think or see the world on the basis of facts and figures learnt from books. They don’t make sweeping generalizations about humanity in order to appear smart around their peers, nor do they try to put a reason or label on everything that happens to them.They see the world only through their eyes. Stuff just happens. Maybe that is why children seem to be very happy. Maybe a bit naive and clueless, but happy.

But what ultimately makes children and adults so similar? Emotions. When I was a child, I thought adults never cry and that they never feel sad, lost, or confused. But they do, obviously. The same sadness I had felt when I was young and had just lost my favorite toy comes back when I now lose something much more important. The same rush of excitement I had felt going down slides in the park is the same feeling I get when I rock climb. The calm I felt playing under the old pine tree in my backyard is the same calm I now feel when I read books or draw. Even though we try to hide these emotions by qualifying them with knowledge – the inevitability of less, the dangers of rock climbing, the time “wasted” reading- the emotions never go away. Greater knowledge of the real world is the only thing that prevents me from writing in my diary “today was a good day, the only bad thing is that I got a little sunburnt,” or that “the fishes in the ocean were beautiful, I wish I could swim further and see more of them,” or “I want to stay here forever” and genuinely mean it.

Adults are just big kids who know too much.

32 thoughts on “The Misfortune of Growing Up

  1. I do like that last line because it describes me perfectly. I still find the greatest wonder in small things. And at one time, I did know too much. I have now entered that stage in life where I can safely be a child again and forsake adulting to someone else’s firm control. Another great post Kat.

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      1. Oh yes, being a grown-up with all kinds of grown-up stuff to do ruins my Peter Pan dreamscape. But, I do find ways to shove all those adulting tasks aside and find a bit of respite. Always make time for a little carefree fun and the Head Elves will stay productive and happy. 😊

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  2. An unusually thought provoking post, Kat. But not so surprising to find it on your blog.

    I define wisdom a bit differently as, “Knowing and applying the most effective ethical means to obtain a desired result.”

    I think both children and adults tend to know more than they understand. For instance, when I was much younger I knew a lot of women didn’t like having sex on the first date. I also knew women tended to be more overtly concerned with emotional intimacy than men. But it wasn’t until I got older and put those two things together that I understood why a lot of women don’t like merely physically intimate sex. In turn that understanding became the basis of my knowing how to take those facts into consideration in order to achieve my goals.

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    1. Unusual? I’m glad you think so, but I’m wondering what sets this post apart from my other ones? I felt a little different writing this, but I can’t tell why. Maybe you can help.

      Ethical. I like that. I believe that children are, for the most part, ethical. They don’t understand much about the evil in the world. They don’t know that lying is an option, or stealing, or taking advantage of someone. They fall short when it comes to human interaction, which is a very complicated art. It only comes from experience. Your example about understanding what women want makes a lot of sense. There should be more men like you in the world. But ethics are different for everyone, and I don’t think that you can apply a core set of ethics to every situation, and there may never be a way of knowing, with certainty whether what you do is actually ethical. Well, it depends if you think of wisdom as a personal character trait. I think wisdom is something bigger than that. I’ve thought about it a lot, but it remains an illusive concept for me.

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      1. As for ethics, I tend to follow Kant and Rawls in believing that one should not advance as an ethical principle any principle one would not wish universalized to apply to all people. So, for instance, I would not say it is wrong to murder unless I meant it is wrong for everyone to murder

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      2. I don’t believe in universal ethics. I do believe that it is wrong to kill, obviously, but I do not think this should apply in every single situation. I think every situation should be evaluated individually to determine what is right and wrong. I’m not one for generalizations. I’m not going to pretend to know the link between different approaches to ethics with wisdom, but now I’ll be thinking about that a lot.

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      3. I agree with you, Kat, but my point has escaped you. My bad. Let me see if I can be clearer. I am saying that — given a specific set of conditions — an ethical principle regarding that particular set of conditions ought to apply to everyone. So for instance, I would not say, “Don’t you, Kat, murder for mere pleasure, but it is alright if the president does the same thing.”

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  3. I don’t really feel as though I’m repeating myself in behaviour patterns really, every person I meet is so different from each other. Don’t forget everything changes all the time in respect of environment and how we’re affected by those around us – also, there’s new discoveries and inventions change the way we live. 🙂

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    1. Well, I think behavior patterns do change as you get older, but feelings don’t. Because every person is different, they feel emotions differently. Emotions are at the core of what make us us. I don’t think they are affected by the environment or by new discoveries.

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      1. Well I beg to differ! If the environment is changing, say you move house or something, or surround yourself with new people, or have an epiphany – what about that? Also, we never used to have mobile phones, so now we can build relationships without being face to face, which is entirely different in every way – perhaps not for the best, but perhaps it is for a lot of people? One cant really generalise about things when each and every person is so unique, they don’t teach you that in psychology, its a new science, quite inadequate IMO – what about when they went to the moon? Lot of people probably thought they were going to meet God, but they didn’t, so they have to change their thinking, stuff like that definitely effects people, or like if there’s a war or something, and people realise the stupidity of it all – they may or may not make the same mistakes again, but surely, sooner or later, people will turn away from all that madness and realise. Its hard to say to someone who is right, that they might actually be wrong, but who knows, as you grow older, you gain access to more ability for changing oneself on ever deeper layers, or something?

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      2. You’re right, maybe I shouldn’t be making generalizations. But I can’t really see how moving into a new house or being told that God was not at the moon can really change who you are as a person at the core. Maybe, of course, some things will change, if you have to interact with a new environment, but we can’t completely change from the person we were when we were younger, there has to be some sort of connection, don’t you think?

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      3. Oh well I do know what you mean, just that ones focus can change to such an extent – at other times it doesn’t seem possible.

        I remember chatting to this guy who had his degree in philosophy, we were talking about something quite deep and he wasn’t getting my point, then he suddenly did, and he said “Oh, you mean reality! Thats just something I keep in a box, every once in a while I go over and kick it” – I found his remark outrageous at the time, but then later on, I felt that his perspective at that moment was just very different from mine.

        Kate Bush has a lyric “Don’t ever think that you can’t change the past and the future” That a bold claim, I like it! 😀 X

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  4. Kat. This is AWESOME. I look back at my earliest memories and see… myself. I’m “one of those people who don’t just HAVE feelings, but ARE feelings,” and I’ve always felt a bit odd about it because my experience of my Self is exactly the same as it was when I was three. But now I have history to draw on. Sometimes I struggle to feel like an adult, to change my self-perception, because childhood was an odd combination of simultaneous safe and unsafe. As an adult, I can now be safe when I couldn’t have been as a child. But it’s so easy to slip back because my emotional core feels exactly the same!

    Beautifully written and deeply thoughtful. No pretense. There was a little extra water in my eyes at the end because it felt like such a profound truth. I really do feel like I know too much (and still yet not enough).

    It is a real joy to me to be able to feel things so strongly, and I love the fierce, joyful, painful heat of truth.

    Thanks, friend.

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    1. Thank you so much! I feel like a child too, especially when I find myself in very embarrassing or difficult situations and feel an urge to cry and the only thing that is stopping me is a reminder that I am an adult and therefore, I shouldn’t. I feel a lot of emotions too, and many of those emotions I’ve been feeling my entire life, I just learned how to deal with them as I’ve gotten older.
      Thank you again. I am very glad that you liked this post. ❤️

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