A few weeks ago in my piece 'the Natural Disasters Gang Up on Malpoet' I offered some free advice to Andrew P Withers - namely to "grow up and accept responsibility for your own life". Now I know what I meant by this, and so have no intention of taking it back, but I appreciate that an instruction to grow up can be something of a catch-all term. It's worth exploring the various contexts in which the term is used, and their validity, sincerity or otherwise.
A lot of this question centres around the concepts of personal freedom and responsibility, which are surely mutually inclusive? A person minus a sense of individual liberty cannot reasonably be expected to carry the can for bad judgements made by authority figures (ie parents, the state) on their behalf. In the same way, if someone has demonstrated themselves to be irresponsible then there are circumstances in all walks of life in which you cannot entrust them with the same freedoms of others. You wouldn't leave a serial thief in charge of the petty cash, and even in the most libertarian society possible there would have to be those not permitted to carry a concealed weapon due to proven recklessness while using them in the past.
The freedom-responsibility equation therefore varies quite wildly between adults and children. 'Kids need boundaries' is sometimes used as a charter for draconian discipline that borders on abuse, but there is indeed a line beyond which any young person cannot be 'free to make their own mistakes' due to the ramifications involved. That's why they need a trusted adult (usually a parent) to make certain decisions for them, hopefully gradually less as the adolescent approaches adulthood.
This guardian figure is also responsible for cleaning up the mess for a decision taken on the child's behalf which turns out to be wrong - something I've learned in life is that people are generally willing to impose whatever authority they have on others, but equally prone to pointing the finger and blaming their subjects for the consequences of their own ill-informed brainwave. We could easily be talking about politicians, either of the corporate or Westminster variety, just as easily as one can with regard to bad parents. Show me a control freak in any walk of life who, upon getting it wrong, takes full responsibility and does not attempt to muddy the waters or blame anyone else. I bet you can't because this simply is not how the control freak operates.
But back to business - what is growing up? When I talked about our friend Andrew, I was referring to basic things like getting a job, being self-reliant, and appreciating that while there is such a thing as society, it does not owe you a living. The man who Malpoet and myself were dealing with was a control freak of the highest order, a manipulator of good people and a litigious bully to boot. Such folk never take responsibility for the affairs of their own existence, because they never need to while there is someone else to change their nappies for them and another direction in which they can point the finger of blame. Those who come in for their abuse and tricks of the mind are actually the blanket without whom they would struggle to survive - for the everyday idler this would be the demoralised spouse and/or kids who actually prop them up, but have been worn down and conditioned to the point where they no longer think rationally.
In Withers' case, LPUK members were that blanket, the supply of fresh blood, status and money to the vampire who sat on the couch all day then demanded his dinner when you returned home from work. We are all terrified of something, and to someone who has practised power without responsibility for a prolonged period of time, the notions of truth and accountability are a frightening sea change from the cosiness of their current existence. Life is supposed to be hard, and living in such a way so that you can be completely honest 99% of the time without fear is probably beyond most of us, myself included. However, striving to be as close to that mark as possible is what grown ups learn to do - if we break something, we own up or replace it instead of running like hell, we try to avoid telling direct lies to people if we possibly can, and we do not take what is not ours to take. That's what distinguishes us from children, or at least should...
However, this is not the only context in which the phrase 'grow up' is used and sometimes it can reveal some less than benign intentions. Indeed there are occasions on which following the instruction can cut directly against the grain certainly of personal freedom and in all likelihood responsibility too. Hey, I don't want to get married, 'settle' for someone and have two kids a dog and a lawnmower - I'm not telling anyone what they should or should not do with their lives, for the only person equipped to make that judgement call is them. For some, this is exactly the path that brings the greatest sense of meaning and fulfilment to their life - and good luck to them. Personally, I've never felt comfortable with the concept and have no wish to either be bossed around or play domestic Stalin with anyone else - different strokes for different folks and all that...
There's a strain of working-class solidarity that always annoyed me from a young age. The legend that is Morrissey once commented that for a working class girl, her wedding day might be the only one of her life that she can genuinely look forward to, for it is the one point in her time on earth where she really felt special or significant. The 'tradition' of getting married and raising a family is as important to proletarian thinking as the industries of the past that have now been and gone. Like those dead end jobs, it also represents something of a prison with cotton walls - a kid from a council estate who did not want to work down t'pit or in t'mill was seen as betraying his roots and having ideas above his station.
Likewise, someone for whom the concept of raising a family was intimidating, did not appeal to them or involved concealing their true sexual orientation would change their mind when they 'grew up'. Societal pressure is invariably brought to bare on those who just want to be left alone, often in the form of cruelty and personal abuse. They are depicted as having something wrong with them, of being selfish and irresponsible. Some people give in for the sake of an easy life, they do as they are told, 'grow up' and get the wife and kids collection despite never having wanted them, or actually preferring the same sex to the opposite one. If you really want to ignore this sustained assault on your freedom of thought, then you have to be strong enough to go it alone and take the digs from 'well-intentioned' people - I know this from personal experience, and wonder how many people 'grew up' for the sake of others and walked straight into a life of misery.
I completed one of those political questionnaires recently (yes I came out as a Libertarian before anyone asks) and one of the statements was 'making peace with authority is part of your maturity as an individual'. Naturally, my answer was 'strongly disagree' and there's a simple enough explanation as to why - the implication of this comment is that 'growing up' involves merely switching your brain off, accepting the word of whoever is in charge and questioning precisely nothing. Being at best a sheep and more likely a sycophantic moron is of course no telltale sign of maturity, but you would be astonished how many people believe that it is. The whole structure of big companies and governments is built around the concept that the independent thinker is 'bad' and should sit in the corner mulling over what he has done while the man who likes to say yes is a fully fledged adult who has 'learned to accept things the way they are'.
That was an instruction I got from one of the cancers in my life many years ago when faced with a situation that was manifestly unfair from any sane angle. When people ask me to 'accept something the way it is', (because only people who haven't grown up ever question anything, right?) I always respond by listing people from history who refused to lie down and take the shit that they were getting on that particular day, and how grateful we as a civilisation should be that they did not 'grow up' either. Suppose Martin Luther King had 'grown up' and learned to 'accept things the way that they were' - would this have been a good or bad thing in the course of history as we know it?
There is considerable merit in a concept I first stumbled across when reading 'to Kill a Mockingbird' as an adolescent - ie. that a child has a certain ability to question things and view them dispassionately, free of the prejudices that might poison his or her environment. At the risk of sounding autobiographical, I'll share something personal with you - my father is a racist and a homophobe and he raised me to be the same, filling my impressionable mind with his bigotry and poison at every opportunity. For instance, when I was a teenager, he once banned us from watching 'the Fresh Prince of Bel Air' on the grounds that it was a "nigger programme". I swear upon the man upstairs that they were his exact words on the subject and if you-know-who is reading this then the challenge to instigate legal proceedings has just been laid down.
When I was younger of course there were moments when my environment tainted the independent thoughts of my own conscience, and though I was never about to join the Ku Klux Klan, I did subscribe to one or two colourful views in my teens. However, that childlike ability to see through what colours their surroundings and drill through to the truth won out in this regard - and as the bastard would himself have put it 'I refused to grow up'. Hopefully all the reasonable people on here will see that as a positive thing.
By laying this presure on people to accept what is around them and ditch any inquisitive streak they might possess, you also remove the individual's capacity to dream, to believe that they can make a better life for themselves and those around them if they first stand up to what they see as unjust, and then work towards addressing it themselves. A world in which everyone 'grows up' in this sense is one in which nothing ever changes, and nobody fulfils the goals that at first seemed far-fetched. There is so much in life that we would dearly love to achieve, or wrongs we wish to put right, yeah? So to every self-reliant individual who is perfectly capable of looking after him or herself - please, don't 'grow up', don't let society bully you, don't 'accept things the way they are' and above all else, keep questioning authority. Remember that all bullies and control freaks are cowards and believe me, they hate it.