For kids, small is big: a minor scratch needs a bandage, a pinch from a sibling leads to open warfare, a spot in the front seat is a coronation, an extra topping on the frozen yogurt is a coup, another round of errands is a death march, a forced apology is a permanent humiliation.
And, big is small: no concern about jetliners being shot out of the sky, the war in Gaza, immigrants crossing the border or severe drought conditions in the west.
And, that’s as it should be. For a while.
Successful adults – that is to say, mature and well-developed adults – are successful in part because along the way they figure out how to turn this around; how to get perspective on big and small things and manage themselves accordingly. Well, sometimes. And “sometimes” is precisely the difficulty in so many cases.
What I notice in myself is that when I start feeling frustrated, I will sometimes project that frustration onto others in the form of hyperactive control. I feel out of control so I start to over control. An example: we are two months into a kitchen reconstruction (“remodel” would be a gross understatement) which means that our fridge is in our garage where there is no water line. Because there is no water line there is, of course, no ice. So, we have been buying bags of ice at the grocery store and, because it is summer, going through those bags very quickly. I freaked out on a recent evening when I heard someone getting into our dwindling ice supply for fear that there wouldn’t be enough left for me.
Small became big. And, I consider myself a successful adult. What to make of that?
I suppose that we’re never quite done sorting it all out. My tendency for control is going to get kicked up when my capacity to manage the ambiguity and uncertainty of my circumstances is tested. When that water surges over the banks it has to go somewhere. So then my job – as an aspiring successful adult – is to keep expanding and strengthening my banks. To check them, test them, reinforce and repair them. To do so, I must stay in conversation with myself, as honestly and realistically as I can.
It is popularly reported that to protect the Golden Gate bridge from the corrosive effects of the ocean air, it is constantly being repainted. There is no completion. There is only ongoing maintenance. One coat over another, over another.
Don’t stop building. Don’t stop painting. That is the bigger work we all must do.