Towards A Definition Of Adulthood (With A Nod To Judaism)

Over on The Happiness Project today, Gretchen Rubin is grappling with how we use vocabulary to define our goals.

Some people, she notes, prefer to talk about intentions rather than Gretche’s preferred “resolutions.” Others would like to discard the term “Happiness Project” altogether; while embracing the same goals, they want to dissect “life’s journey.” Still others don’t want to talk about happiness at all; they’d rather achieve a state of joy.

It’s an interesting discussion because it gets at the power of words to convey something essential, as well as how personal that vocabulary needs to be to have meaning for each and every one of us.

The post really struck a chord with me because – like Gretchen with happiness – I feel like I ought to have a working definition of “adulthood” on this blog. On my “about” page, I talk about adulthood as a journey, not a destination. And that’s very much how I think about it.

But last week, I was actually handed a definition of adulthood that really resonated and so I wanted to share it.

I came across this definition while viewing a rough cut of the fabulous film, Neverbloomers, by the Canadian filmmaker Sharon Hyman.  Some of you may remember Sharon as my E-BFF whom I met a year or so ago when I happened upon her website and realized that she was a comrade in arms. Sharon is in the process of finalizing her documentary, which is all about what she calls “GrownUphood” (love it!) and what that term means to different people (including herself).

There were lots of things that struck me about this film (which I can’t wait to promote up, down and sideways when it comes out later this year). But for now, I don’t think I spoil anything by revealing that in one scene, Sharon interviews a Rabbi about his views on adulthood. And here’s what he says:

“Being grown up,” he says, “is the ability to fully integrate that which we know, practically.” He then goes on to reference the Kabbalah, which has a Hebrew word for this: daas. According to the Rabbi,”daas”  is usually translated as “to know,” but it also means “to connect.”

So for this rabbi anyway, adulthood is a state in which all the knowledge that we possess connects or “clicks” and becomes an integrated feeling which, in turn, influences our behavior. And the intellectual faculty that allows for such integration is a uniquely adult talent which one only develops later in life.

Not to go all Fiddler On The Roof on you (“The Rabbi has spoken!“) but I love the concept of daas. I feel like it goes to the heart of what we are – all of us – going through as we age: a process of integrating and connecting our knowledge in a way that permeates our feelings and our behavior. At a minimum, I feel that this idea very much encapsulates what this blog is all about.

So that, my friends, is my profound thought for the day, courtesy of Rabbi Moshe New in Montreal whom I’ve never even met.

You see, I told you. I was meant to be Jewish after all.


Here is my very last post for Politics Daily, which, quite sadly, shut down earlier this week. (More on that another time.) It’s a post on Social Networking and Local Government. I enjoyed writing it every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed writing all of my posts there. Vaya con Dios, PD.

Image: Fiddler On The Roof: Tevye and the Fiddler by Thwaites Theatre Photos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

  • Reply admin

    March 17, 2011, 10:34 am

    thanks doll! y tu tambien…

  • Reply Jenna Eicherly

    March 17, 2011, 4:17 pm

    This article spoke to me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the same concept (daas). My 30s have been a tough decade, and it’s forced me to wonder at what point we leave the stupidity of youth behind and actually learn to think proactively about the consequences of our actions, not just one step ahead but many steps ahead. The key to doing so is the daas you speak of. Everyone seems to reach this transforming step at a different age. In my case, the overarching theme of my 30s has been the struggle to reach daas.

    To illustrate how meaningful this concept is to me, I always knew I wanted a tattoo, but I couldn’t figure out what I wanted. Something Celtic, but what? I decided that when the time was right I’d know what to get. Then the summer I turned 36 I went through a terrible time brought about by the consequences of the behavior of someone who had no daas (if you will). I realized I wanted a symbol that would remind me of the wisdom – and most especially the strength – brought about by the process of getting older. The Celtic triple spiral came close enough, and so now my left shoulder reminds me to not only integrate that which I’ve practically, but also to take strength from those experiences.

    The simple fact I chose to use a tattoo story to illustrate the daas point really shows how much I struggle with attaining maturity, don’t you think? :-)

    As always, thanks for the great read!

    • Reply delialloyd

      March 17, 2011, 7:14 pm

      OMG Jenna I love this story! So great to represent Daas pictorially and not just conceptually…(FYI: I don’t see tattoos as a sign of a lack of maturity-I sort of would love to have one too, now that you mention it…) What a great way to encapsulate – and strive to emulate – this wonderful new concept of ours. Here’s to daas!

  • Reply daryl boylan

    March 21, 2011, 1:46 pm

    Your final (alas!) PD piece addresses a very important issue which comes, of course, with its own issues. Yes, people who communicate and cooperate are vital to any community, and any of the new technology which facilitates this is a huge plus (yea, Egypt!). But bean counters must not forget that volunteers contribute only if, as, and when they are not otherwise engaged. Some, but by no means all, take these responsibilities seriously and are highly reliable and useful, but even at their best are no substitute for trained and experienced staff.

Write a comment