Adulting is commonly understood as an act of taking a new and bigger responsibility in life. It also refers to a millennial who defied expectations by suddenly performing an important task in the household or community.
In many ways, it is being self-aware and responsible at the same time with 21st-century characteristics. Teenagers becoming responsible as self-caring individuals and flaunting this as a spectacle worthy of peer praise.
It must be pointed out that the generation before us became responsible young adults without needing or directing attention to what they were doing. Most of the time, it involved membership in a group and devoting their selves in support of a special cause. It meant young people going to war, building a union, forming a commune, manning the barricades, and joining the uprising. Yet there was no need to use the word adulting under these circumstances. They simply had to grow up, face life’s challenges, and become an adult in the company of others.
Can you imagine a young graduate in the 1940s describing his decision to fight the Nazis as adulting? Similarly, the word adulting probably never crossed the minds of individuals paying taxes during World War II.
There were many words used to describe what the young did when they fought the dictatorship in the 1970s but adulting was not one of them.
Adulting as we understand it today only became knowable after the methodical restructuring of the economy that boosted the hegemony of big business while undercutting the labor movement and the solidarity of groups in the peripheries of society. Crucial to the success of this conservative agenda is the mainstreaming of values that glorify financial success and selfish individualism. We have to thank our schools, the media, and other opinion-making institutions for the inception of these beliefs during our formative years.
Adulting is essentially a celebration of individual achievement. A person gleefully announcing and making visible his petty success.
Adulting activities are neither wrong nor harmful yet it is revealing that they are anchored on the motivation to promote the self.
A person performs this or that mundane task not for the glory of the nation or a collective, and even the family, but only for herself. The indoctrination we received was so massive and pervasive that we no longer view this as unusual, immoral, and counterproductive.
A society is always disrupted by young people taking more responsibilities in life. ‘Adulting’ in the 20th century saw young people immersed in wars, revolutions, and social movements that challenged the established order. It meant changing the world. In contrast, adulting today is more or less about changing the wallpapers in our houses.
Those in power and their apologists who hoard the riches of our community are never threatened by adulting. How can they view adulting with contempt if it merely involves young people overcoming their inadequacies in the modern world?
Young adults finally accepting their designated role in society, law-abiding individuals conforming to the demands of their elders, and millennials becoming conscious of their purchasing power without being critical to the unequal and exploitative relations that dominate today.
Behold the new adults who are now physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to fix what ails the imperfect world. The brainwashed population equating self-improvement and self-care with social responsibility. Tech-savvy individuals who thrive in the social network, whether online or offline, yet arrogates the credit for his success to his so-called self-sacrifice.
Can adulting ever be subversive? Can it lead us to be woke? Only if we rethink what it means to be a responsible adult living in this day and age when there’s plenty of information about hunger and poverty yet preventable miseries continue to plague the world. Only if we link adulting to the daily struggles of the poor and oppressed. Only if we question the need for adulting until it’s replaced by a more liberating word that captures the idealism of the young, their anger, energy, passion, and commitment to conquer and change the world. The day when adulting ceases to appear relevant because everybody is focused on making life more meaningful for both adults and non-adults.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org