One of French playwright Jean Anouilh's characters says, "It's when you understand that there's nothing left to break that you become an adult." That very loose translation is mine, but it captures the sense of the phrase. You grow up when you learn that throwing things, hitting walls, hurting someone else ultimately does not get you what you need.
That moment, that realization, is for me more of a revolution than anything else in human development.
I do volunteer work with survivors of intimate-partner abuse and sexual assault, and I'm reminded every day of the consequences when that revolution is delayed ... or doesn't happen at all. More women die at the hands of their partners than die of breast cancer every year; yet we don't see the disease, the pathology, the pre- revolutionary thinking. The realization that the world does not, in fact, revolve around us; that there is a greater scheme of things, and it's up to us to fit into it, not to try and force it to fit itself to us-that's the real revolution.
We see it on a small intimate scale, when feelings of inadequacy or jealousy or frustration are taken out on a domestic partner. We see it against a larger backdrop, when greed or hubris or politics incite a country to invade another.
Individually and collectively, we keep throwing tantrums when we don't get our way (no matter how cleverly we disguise those tantrums to make them seem more reasonable, more adult, more justifiable), and we go on as though the world were made for our enrichment and enjoyment. But how much enjoyment is there in always wanting more?
Anouilh was right: eventually one runs out of things to throw. Unless we're ready for the revolution in perception that's necessary in order to grow up, we'll be left with nothing at all.