The absurdity of adulthood

Photography: Stephan Rebernik, Vienna

Photography: Stephan Rebernik, Vienna

Have you noticed the manner in which many adults relate to each other when discussing children? Much of the time, there’s an affectionate knowingness that presupposes some naïve absurdity of either the child, or of children, generally. This attitude of the adult often carries forward in any spoken exchanges with children themselves, particularly so when engaging with others’ offspring. So there’s a certain pretension or dissembling that goes on, and within which the adult assumes superiority over those less mature. I wonder, what is the validity of this?

In maturity, we garner a greater sophistication of thought of course; this is undeniable. Although the child’s acquisition of language is remarkably efficient, due in part to the neural plasticity of their brain, there’s of yet little or no urbanity or finesse apparent in the structure of their words. This lack, we as adults extrapolate from in arriving at our conclusions as to the child’s naiveté and necessarily present, though cute, daftness. The poor little things will learn of course; over time they’ll come to see the world through eyes such as ours. Is this good?

Perhaps, after all, there is something we lose in our maturing of thought and in the percipience of our on-going analysis of the world. The directness of the child’s apprehending of this same world remains unencumbered by the myriad assumptions we assimilate as we go through life making sense of it in ideas wrought from experience and conditioning. We slip imperceptibly into the habitation of these assimilations and also into the extended ideas they sculpt in our minds. This is our so-called maturation, upon which we abandon all naïveté.

Which, if either, is the more absurd condition, that of the child, or of the mature adult? This article’s title reveals my own conclusion, though it’s worth unwrapping how we arrive at any personal position. Then again, you may feel that the question of absurdity is misplaced, particularly if you detect none within your own character or behaviours. You’re a serious individual perhaps, never prone to the farcical or preposterous; you’ve long since outgrown those tendencies and pursue your life with an unremitting clarity of purpose for the greater part – is that really so?

As an adult, I lose my immediate connection with life as my attention is seduced by thoughts. This seduction may not hold any overt allure, and I might just as easily float adrift upon a meaningless sea of flotsam and jetsam as perhaps upon rarefied clouds of reason. It would utterly horrify me if others could see the abject mess that my adult mind is in for most of the day. The dramaturgy of my social construct would be seen for the façade that it is. I am acting in a farcical play in which I detach not only from others, but from my own vital presence of being.

If others are sensitive, they can sense the dissembling at some level, recognising it as a reflection of their own habitation of mature self-entity, their own clumsy collisions of a patched together narrative. So there we are, the two of us each knowing the other has lost authenticity in the interchange. Despite this subtle knowing, we intuit we have no option but to continue the whole charade. We recognise that in once long ago having stigmatised the possibility of appearing naïve or absurd, we in the process became objects of that same feared absurdity.

Some of our dramaturgy is altogether necessary, as true spontaneity, absurdity and unmitigated directness can be rather frightening or offensive to others. Unconventional displays feel risky to us anyhow; we feel safer in our make believe and have long since lost the wide-eyed receptivity of childhood past. Playing the cautious hand, entrapped like Yossarian in Catch-22, we otherwise would escape the drama so as to relate more authentically, yet doing so risks alienating those we would relate to. So our maturity confines us as we pine for the child’s freedom.

This is not to say that we must remain caught in such a predicament. In knowing ourselves deeply, we no longer need default to the obfuscation of absurdity, yet may still retain certain conventions of social interaction. The truly mature adult embodies the child within amidst a playfully offhand knowingness that remains respectful in all encounters with others. Our physiognomy and dialogue may at times adapt so as to bridge two worlds of knowing, at once refining the art of absurdity to such a point that its formerly elusive obviousness negates openly.

73 thoughts on “The absurdity of adulthood

    • Thank you very much David; it’s good to know that I’m not alone in appreciating the great value present in the child’s sense of immediacy, and in their uncontrived responsiveness too.

      The baggage of adulthood can at times seem a wearisome burden when we’re privileged to witness and glimpse the vital directness of the child’s ability to apprehend the world.

      With much gratitude to you for reading the article and for commenting David.


  1. I saw the picture of these children a few days ago and grinned. . . most of the day.

    I thought your point about children being able to pick up language, and why, was very interesting. My son had a huge command of language very early in life and I made the false conclusion that his intellectual comprehension was equally developed.

    The quantum leap that he used adult reasoning in making choices (because he was so ‘smart’) was not helpful to him or me. . . or anyone. I leapt in quantum assumptions about that kid all over his kidhood. It was, truly, absurd.

    • Ha-ha! XD I hope your son doesn’t come across this blog Meredith; though I daresay you can both look back and laugh now. . . I don’t know too much about quantum leaps; I’m more of a plodder myself. Though once, a long, long time ago, an acquaintance of mine sat on a little stool in the middle of a quantum jump beating his drum absurdly as he listened to the inside take on The Lone Ranger:

  2. I loved this post, Hariod. I think we do lose a lot with ‘maturity’. And the facades, they are almost like reflexes except when they are HARD work to put on, like when depressed or sick or grieving. . .

    • I hear you Ellen; and I would like to express my gratitude to you for once again taking the time to read and comment upon an article. I may well be reading too much into your words, though perhaps this isn’t the easiest of moments for you currently. Whether or not that is so, there are indeed times when our energies are so low, and our minds and bodies so debilitated, that even the reflexive pretences we issue so fluently for the most part find difficulty in gaining traction. At times such as these, it can be invaluable to remind ourselves that all states of mind pass, and that all external circumstances pass; it is only our habituated thinking that envisages their continuance in perpetuity – you know this Ellen.

      Hariod. ❤

      • Dear Hariod,

        You are SO brilliantly perceptive – even over the ether.

        I should know. All is cycles, ESPECIALLY with Bipolar but the nature of the state seems to be one of complete amnesia for all previous states and the way out of them! You’re right, I know this.

        Oh, and I am so sorry to have omitted mention of all the beautiful artwork and the photograph. I have loved all the art you have shown on all the posts I have seen.

        xx Ellen.

        • I send you thoughts of loving kindness Ellen. You very soon will sense tranquillity again. Perhaps, if at all possible, you might consider disconnecting from all the busyness for a short while, and connect instead with the nature you so love? All the while, remember you have friends, here and elsewhere, who care about you. H. <3.

          • Aww, thank you, Hariod. Tears. THANK YOU!

            No escaping to nature until the weekend. Am going to take your advice though and catch up a little with myself.

            Your posts are so elevating – as are you!

            xx Ellen.

  3. Thank you for another insightful post, Hariod. How absurd it is to continue to live in the world we created when we were 5 years old, and how sad that we are in danger of passing this cramped world on to our children. It is so reassuring to find kindred souls along the way.

    • A thousand thanks for taking a moment, from what I imagine must surely be your busy schedule, to read this article and to generously offer your own reflection John.

      I hope it is acceptable that I make a recommendation to any readers here to the effect that they take a look at your own exquisite and deeply insightful writings:

      With all best wishes to you and your wife John.


  4. Soooo I am feeling like how I imagine you must when you say you “I have no idea how to interpret a fairy tale.” LOL! I watched in awe as this post ignited its engines, zoomed down the runway and flew sky high, right over my head. Yet, the image of the adorable free-spirited children tugged at my heart strings to such an extent I deemed it necessary to thank you for that! Always happy to see Clarissa’s artwork as well. 😉

    • Amanda my dear dream-seer, it is simply that you are too young and beautiful to be weighed down with absurdity like us oldies. I daresay I’ve got a good forty years on you, and I’ll wager a book of fairy tales that when you get to my age, you’ll understand quite how utterly absurd I currently am.

      You are the second to comment on that photograph of Stephan Rebernik’s, along with Meredith. I think it’s just fabulous and in fact it inspired me to write this piece earlier than planned. Thank you also Amanda for noticing and appreciating Clarissa’s amazing work; I will let her know.

      With much appreciation for taking a look at this article dear Amanda; and do stay just as you are – young at heart, and old of soul.

      Hariod. ❤

      • “I’ll wager a book of fairy tales. . .” Thanks for the belly laugh!

        Please tell Clarissa I still think about her gold paintings, many weeks after first seeing them. It is those very same gold paintings of hers that prompted me to ever comment on your blog in the first place; so I guess we have her magic to thank for our friendship.

        P.S. I am plenty absurd!

  5. I enjoy the different levels of insight in this post Hariod. Thank you!

    I must admit, since I don’t have children and am not around children, I tend to see them as curious, funny and amazing growing humans. . . Although I do recall being on the receiving end of some absurd conversations with adults when I was young. 🙂

    I wonder if the baggage of adulthood might be related to the amount of responsibility that parenthood and life in general brings. . . Or, perhaps when we focus on the external children we lose touch with our inner child?

    I may be naive here. . . not sure I get this fully.


    • Hi Val!

      I think when you refer to ‘the baggage of adulthood’ that you are on to something there. The more neurotically serious and obsessive we get about pursuing and modifying our accumulated life story, the more absurd we risk becoming in the process. I thought it would be worthwhile to contrast a similar idea to this with the immediacy, spontaneity and vitality of the child’s mind.

      So this article is rather more about the cumulative effects of thinking per se; it’s about how we build narratives and assimilate a host of assumptions into that narrative. I think it’s fair to say that we may well lose spontaneity in this broadly analytical/empirical construction, all of which self-perpetuates and gets taken ever so seriously – often to the point of absurdity in my view.

      I would like to thank you greatly for taking the time to read this article and for adding your own perspective Val. It is both gratifying and humbling to have one such as yourself give time to my own meagre offerings.

      Hariod. ❤

      • Thank you Hariod for clarifying and sharing further. I appreciate your sitting down with me here. 🙂

        Building narratives full of assumptions and losing touch with our child-like spontaneity makes a lot of sense.

        Let us all remember to not take ourselves, and life, so seriously all the time.

        Val. x

  6. I am loling in this moment of completing reading of this tremendous post as I just wrote one during a sleepless night the other day which I entited “Masquerading In Adulthood”. It is sitting waiting in my draft folder. How wonderful to find the synchronities abounding also with you.

    I am crossing my eyes with joy. Is that you with your tongue stuck out H? lol -x.M

    • Cross-eyed amazement at the synchronicity here too M. And it’s a funny thing, but that’s been happening a lot just lately whilst you’ve been lying low with Luke. Am I somehow plundering and plagiarising your thought-streams?

      Cheyenne the painter may have given the game away (see below); and if your next post, like my next, is about 17th. c. French drama, charlatanry and sex – tell me it isn’t so! – then I may as well close this place down.

      I’ll see you over at your place ere too long M; I’ve just been away for a day and have some catching up to do here – one or two of my older posts and pages have elicited some comments that need urgent acknowledgement.

      Hariod. ❤

  7. As far as people finding out the sorry state of our messy thoughts. . . the horror! I’ve found that if I don’t want someone to think about what just crossed my mind, then I’d better stop thinking it myself. Likewise, if I’m alert and perceptive enough, I can recognize that the thought or emotion that just enveloped me actually belongs to someone else in the room. Sometimes this vigilance is vital and other times it’s just interesting, like noticing a wildflower along the road.

    • I wouldn’t want to respond in any detail to what you say here Cheyenne; though my own take is that the concentrated mind is involved in this; the static is tuned-out, and emotion particularly seems to act as a conduit or facilitator. Perhaps it is different for each individual; I really wouldn’t know. It’s an interesting enough phenomenon though, not least of all as it occurs in sleep when dreams are shared as well. 🙄

      With all best wishes Cheyenne.


  8. We are fortunate to live in a culture in which a full, extended childhood is possible. In most cases, this is a happy, freeing experience. As long as we do not become attached to remaining children and youth, we can develop into well-rounded adult humans. The metamorphosis from juvenile to adult is unique to apes, in that we can clearly recall aspects of our childhood after we’ve physically matured. We can use these memories as tools for further growth; or, as is usually the case, we can use the memories as nostalgic escapes away from present-time thoughtfulness and action.

    • Many thanks for adding this clear and concise perspective. I greatly appreciate you giving of your time to read the article and for adding a valued comment – thank you.


  9. I have one child. . . Not a good idea. Would I be a parent again? Absolutely not! – The day and age suggests that it is not a good time. . . Parents are so put upon nowadays with just too much to look after in life, how can they parent well? – Sad! – 😦 Eve.

    • I understand what you say Eve; the pressures of living in a society rampant with greed for gain, under governments that see no alternative but to keep pumping up the consumerist mentality, place tremendous pressures on parenting adults. It’s no wonder that mental health is such a huge issue currently.

      In addition to all this, the children themselves have been almost entirely disenfranchised from these accepted societal norms – here in the U.K. anyhow – with housing, and hence independence, being prohibitively expensive, as is so with the costs of higher education. The younger generation need to organise themselves politically.

      Many thanks for reading the article and for commenting Eve; I always appreciate your presence greatly.

      Hariod. ❤

      • My daughter lives in the UK. She is the most hardhearted human being. Beats me why so. She grew up with a lot of love and hopefully we did the best we could. We certainly went without (big-time) for her. Now we hardly ever get a phone-call.

        In times gone by, children, UK children included, grew up with a family. Mum at home, the circle of the family was not broken. Life was rough and tough. We were clouted. Life was, though, not without hope. We survived in a very awkward sort of way. We all said we would do better by our children; did we? Most of us tried, but many of us failed.

        There is more to a child’s life than parents (ha), or whether they are able to provide this or that. The kiddies in India have little or nothing. Most are better equipped to deal with life than children in the West. They have family but they also have community; and yet they have few expectations.)

        Lol. Eve.

        • I am sorry to hear about the current situation with your daughter Eve. It can be so very difficult to rationalise quite how such situations arise and sustain themselves, and in fact, I took this problem on in an article I wrote called ‘Inexplicable tensions in family life’: It’s more than possible that your own situation is outside the scope of what I covered in this short piece.

          I think it’s worth bearing in mind that even late in the day, reconciliations can be made, and this is not fantasy or idle speculation. I have been involved in facilitating just such a reconciliation, and although first steps are tentative, and things may remain that way thereafter, both parties are deeply thankful that the effort was made.

          Hariod. ❤

          • In this case I don’t think you can beat the genes. Bruce Lipton, the scientist, says it is not down to genes, but I think it is. My daughter is exactly like my husband’s mother, yet the two never met. I thought environment and other factors mattered. But in the end people do, sadly, end up like their relatives, even those unmet ones. I think the same is true for great kids. Whatever the home life, some kids survive and do well in life. 🙂

    • Thank you for reading this article, for posting a comment and also for your very kind words Michael. Am I right in thinking you are currently in Europe, or have you not departed from your home in Australia yet?

      With all best wishes.


      • Hi Hariod, my pleasure. I am writing this on the train to Aberystwyth. I’ve been down in the Kent countryside near Canterbury the last four nights, and now to Wales! Hoping I might have nice weather to go up Cadair Idris.

        • You had perhaps better get up there in the morning Michael; I see that the rain is coming in on Monday with a vengeance at Dolgellau. Tuesday and Wednesday both look good though – I hope it works out well for you!

            • I’ve not been up, but around Cadair Idris, as well as Snowdonia generally. I used to live in the Preseli Hills on a little smallholding a number of years ago. That would be down the coast from Snowdonia quite a long way, though still an exquisite part of the country, if not so majestic.

  10. So true. There is something of what you write about that we might be missing in our ways. I have been reading Waldo Emerson lately and he often talks about youth and how they are closer to their intuitive awareness and in some ways are in a more open and informed place of being.

    I have worked with children in crisis for most of my life in different countries and I think Western countries are more inclined this way that you write about here. And the difference is noticeable in the children in how they interact with, and relate with, adults and with life.

    • Thank you very much for reading this article and for adding your own valued perspective Gord; I greatly appreciate it.

      It’s interesting that you should confirm what I had suspected, that the phenomenon I allude to is primarily one of Western societies. That final point you make about the manner in which children interact with adults is perhaps quite telling and possibly indicative of those unnecessary attitudes we, for the most part, bring to child rearing.

      Thank you once again Gord for your insightful contribution.


  11. Where as genes may be an influence in behaviour I think there is much more space than we give due credit, for environment to affect our biology. Our conditioning can come to be reflected in our genes.

  12. I’ve chosen to be around those who are a bit unclear on what it means to act one’s age. It just doesn’t enter into their mind to have the child-like innocence be a past memory and current longing. Okay, some people wonder at the antics of my pals. I say, come join in the fun!

    Thanks for your continued insights and inspiration.


    • Thank you very much Vincent for reading this article and for responding so graciously with an insightful comment. You seem to be a reader who has actually grasped what I’ve written about here by virtue of your own insights and wisdom.

      With great respect and much gratitude.


  13. Hariod,

    I much enjoyed your conclusion regarding the notion that the healthy adult is a slightly contained lid on a playful child – that we don’t want to ambush anyone on the one hand with our slapstick routine, but nor do we wish to suppress it altogether. . . I have a tendency to test the waters early in relationships by tossing out a deadpan absurdity to see whether it is picked up or not. Sometimes they just fly like invisible bricks right out through the window. I hear the glass shatter, but no one seems to notice the window needs replacing. The child will be needing a baby-sitter for this particular project. 🙂 But more often than not, over time they are picked up and welcomed. . .

    When I was thinking about how we lose our natural exuberance and playfulness as we mature, I of course hit on your combo of experience and conditioning. I was drawn to think of all the difficulties a being faces along this path of growth and maturation – wars, physical shortcomings and disease, loss of loved ones, an uncertain future, insufficiency of some resource or another, violent parents, the evening news – and it is not all that difficult to see how the playfulness is relegated to play second fiddle behind a serious and urgent effort to control and maintain normalcy. In the face of such wanton difficulty as we face on this planet, our playfulness competes with despondency and confusion. I see this even in the picture you showed – the children grinning with abandon off to the right are clearly in a different consciousness than the boy to the left with the damaged eye. His smile is more subdued. His conditioning has, perhaps, been immediate and direct.

    Our journey to adulthood brings us into the room with these challenges. And yet, remarkably, it is precisely our natural playfulness which allows us to penetrate the skein of these difficulties, to pull us out of isolation and into shared understanding, to reveal our commonality, to underpin our collectiveness. Such a gift, this innate desire to bear witness to the absurdities of our condition. . . but we face a choice along the way. An ‘adult’ choice. A ‘difficult’ choice. A choice to look our difficulties in the eye, and laugh. A choice to transform our hardship into gentle wisdom. Or, to keep those difficulties hidden and at bay, behind the mask of convention. For I think this adult playfulness must be balanced by the tears of what else has touched us, by a willingness to share both our wounds and our hilarities, otherwise the playfulness becomes just another type of mask?

    A thought and feeling provoking post as always, Hariod!


    • What a pleasure it is to once again receive your insightful remarks Michael – you have the capacity to find fresh perspectives in what I write and always seem able to do so in a heartfelt and engagingly instructive way.

      It’s funny that you mention this ‘deadpan absurdity’ that you use to test the water in new encounters; I do this very same thing myself, and usually to the same effect! Oh well; at least it’s enlivening when it does work.

      You say that ‘our playfulness competes with despondency and confusion’, and I agree; though in doing so, it also acts as a healthy counterbalance; doubtless you too would agree in turn with this observation.

      I also concur with your concluding point, that any acting-out or disingenuous playfulness is both tedious to witness and unhelpful. As I suggested, any mature expression will act ‘so as to bridge two worlds of knowing.

      Thank you so much for reading the article and for contributing to the discussion so fulsomely Michael.


    • Thank you so much for your kind words Kyla; I truly am most appreciative of them. This website is a relatively new project for me, and I am still very much finding my feet here. Writing in short-form is a discipline that I am learning ‘on the job’ so to speak, and fear I have some way to go in accomplishing my objectives in this regard. In any case, may I thank you also for reading this article and for taking the trouble to comment upon it; this too, is very much appreciated.

      With gratitude and respect.


    • Many thanks for reading this article and for adding a much appreciated compliment Meg. Your own writing, discovered by myself as it has been just now, in turn will act as an inspiration here; though sadly, I cannot hope even to approach your level of creativity – a ‘doorway’ indeed to new perceptions in my mind. [ ]

      Hariod. ❤

  14. Thank you, Hariod, for saying this and for expressing it so beautifully. I often think about this exact point and become hooked, as Pema Chodron teaches, on feelings of anger and resentment when others speak to or about my children – all children, really – as though they are less than.

    I’m deeply moved by the way in which you’ve expressed this approach. And will try to take your gentle words with me for comfort and instruction the next time the situation invariably arises.

    Well done & gratitude, Hariod. ❤


    • All thanks are due to you Lauren; and I feel less than worthy of receiving compliments from someone so deftly proficient at, and devoted to, the art of communicating with, as well as listening to, her children.

      May I ask Lauren, what is the lineage of the Buddhist teaching you subscribe to – Mahayana, Hinayana, Zen, something else? Perhaps you work more with contemporary teachings devoid of any rigid historical lineage? Please feel no obligation to respond if you would rather keep this to yourself – I am terminally nosey!

      In closing, further thanks are due to you for again taking a little time to read an article here Lauren, and also for adding a heartfelt and warmly received comment – thank you!

      Hariod. ❤

      • You’re very welcome, Hariod. And thank you, too, for sending such supportive words and sentiments. I’m immensely appreciative.

        I study with a school that claims no lineage and presents an array of teachings, both contemporary and older. Separately, I practice with my therapist who holds lineage in the Zen tradition.

        Thank you so much for asking!


  15. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of this kind of unconscious compromise. I can’t think of a better way to return to the fullness of life than by allowing for our authentic, spontaneous selves to be. Thank you Hariod.

    • Thank you very much Meg, for your supportive and generous words; they help me along in my endeavours here, and I am always humbled when a fine author – such as you are – comes along to consider my offerings. So now, amongst your tribe of 18 descendants, into which category do Sammy and Eve fall – or is the number really 20? Hariod. ❤

  16. The picture and post are both so beautiful Hariod! Every face seems to tell a story of its own. 🙂 Thank you for this beautiful gift. Mature, not in years but wisdom, are the children in our lives. To consider them ‘less than’ would be unwise. Their untainted innocence and honest presence can often feel unsettling in the so called grown up world.

    • I am both flattered and grateful for your generous and thoughtful words Precious Rhymes, as well as for you taking a little of your time to read my offering here. When I finished this piece, I was rather unsure as to whether it might chime with readers’ thoughts, or indeed, whether it may cause a little offence at the suggestion of adulthood, at times, indicating something of the absurd. So, it is gratifying to hear of your own positive reaction and I can only thank you once again for your encouragement as I seek to express my thoughts here on this site.

      Hariod. ❤

    • Thank you very much for your kind and encouraging words Madalyn; I appreciate you taking time to read through this. I initially thought when I ran the piece that I may have found a few people objecting to some of its content, though it appears not to be so, and we each of us recognise within ourselves that whilst we gain much in our maturation, we lose much of value too.

      With gratitude, Hariod.

    • Hello there once again; I have been wondering where you were, and have missed you since your blog went private. We all need a break at times, and hopefully we shall see you return to the public arena once you feel the time is right.

      Thank you so much for reading this article, and for leaving me such a delightful and knowing reflection. I am delighted that yourself and others agree that we lose so much of value in our adulthood, not least, the wisdom of innocence.

      With my very best wishes and gratitude,

      Hariod. ❤

  17. I’ve just written a post (soon to be aired), on maturity and playing, and wanted to find the right post over here to link to, as I knew you’d have already scribed something that would be ideal. And here it is, though around a million times more eloquent than that which Sonmi has thrown together. *laughs*.

    – Sonmi upon the play Cloud

    • It really is such a huge subject it seems Sonmi, and I feel that I barely scratched the surface here, yet must thank you for giving credence to whatever little insight I have managed to cobble together on the matter. I think the objective with this piece was more to break the surface, to put the idea onto the table for discussion, rather than to validate the claim with supporting evidence, which really, is bounteously available.

      I imagine your own take on the matter will be far more creatively illustrated, and look forward to exploring it on your site soon. As to eloquence and all that, I think it can sometimes be a little like cosmetic make-up – used to mask imperfections in the hope that others will mistake the result for perfection. Au naturel is always the best look it seems to me, and doubtless your words match the beauty of your nature.

      With love and gratitude,


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