Elizabeth (greyautumnrain) wrote,

The Mythical Grown-Up

I'd better get as many of the posts I wanted to write but didn't have time to up before I start work again...

When we're little we assume that adults are responsible people who know what they are doing and act responsibly nearly all the time. As adults ourselves it is often hard to shake this belief in these Grown-Ups, even when we know that we ourselves fall very short of that mark.

Some time ago the news that the Duchess of Cambridge was expecting a baby broke earlier than it might otherwise have because the Duchess was hospitalized for severe morning sickness. I think most women who have been pregnant themselves felt sympathetic, even mild morning sickness is no fun. On the other hand, a pair of radio presenters from Australia placed a prank call to the hospital pretending to be members of the royal family and attempting to get medical information about the Duchess out of hospital staff. Their call went through and they spoke to two nurses, one of whom committed suicide not long after the prank call aired.

Obviously it was a tragedy, and it seems equally obvious that there must have been an underlying condition of depression in the nurse. The strain of having fallen for the prank call likely was a factor in triggering the suicide. The thing that really bugged me about the whole incident (and why I'm taking the time to actually write this post months later) is that the radio hosts kept repeating 'we expected someone to stop us' as if this were some sort of defense of their actions. They expected one of these mythical Grown-Ups to step in and stop them, or so they claim. Instead their childish and immature call got taken by two Indian nurses who were under a fair amount of pressure and just trying to do their jobs.

You see, Grown-Ups, like Santa Claus, are a nice thing to believe in, but they are about as real. I learned this pretty thoroughly at 25. I was working for a consulting company that did a number of things, one of which was mathematical models for the telecommunications industry. This was when cell phones were something that only busy professionals had, but their usage was growing. A large carrier had just won a whole lot of broadcast spectrum in an auction, and they were contracting with a major maker of telephony equipment to build handsets. The equipment maker was feeling a little nervous, and so they went to another consulting company for some analysis. The other consulting company didn't actually have the capacity to do quantitative analysis, so they came to us. My consulting company wasn't doing well financially and had shed a lot of people, including anyone who had any expertise at writing these models, so the boss came to me. I could basically follow the most standard model we had because little things like coupled time-dependent differential equations don't scare me, but I could not have altered it reliably much less built such a thing from scratch on short notice. The idea was that we'd use a fairly standard model we had an just get starting point inputs as close as I could manage from looking things up. It was a bit scary, and I had this epiphany moment when there were a dozen people in the room at a meeting with the other consulting company, and I realized that *I* was the only one who would be contributing anything of substance to this whole thing. No one else there even knew enough to check my work, and furthermore no one else there would admit that they couldn't check my work and would just assume I knew what I was doing, which I only kinda sorta did. Upon this report that the others would simply pretty-up, a household-name carrier and a major equipment manufacturer would make their deal or not, because they would assume the report came from "experts" not a scared 25-year-old. The scariest thing is that I realized that this sort of thing probably happens all the time.

My point, and the reason I still bothered to write this months after the event that triggered the thought, is that there are no Grown-Ups who are going to save us from ourselves. People who think that someone should have stopped them, or double-checked them, or been responsible when they were not are people in serious need of a wake-up call. I understand where they are coming from, but honestly if you've been out in the real world for a couple of years you should know better. We all need to be our own Grown-Up once we leave the nest because we simply can't count on the wider world to do it for us. The rest of the world is too busy trying to muddle through themselves.

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