Adult Behavior

We live in an age and society that seemingly holds mature adult behavior in disdain. The media focuses on the histrionics and juvenile behavior of celebrities, sports stars, politicians and average "Joe’s." Self-centered and obnoxious behavior is rewarded with a starring role in a reality TV show.

But, a couple recent events have indicated a change is occurring. Or, perhaps change isn’t the right word. "Return" is more appropriate; a return to a time long past. On the comeback: adults.

In a matter of a week I read two different accounts of very public news items where the reporters actually referred to the behavior of the central figures as "adult." I had almost forgotten the meaning of the word, what with the media’s choice of coverage attempting to convince me that adult behavior no longer exists.

On June 2nd, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was one out from a perfect game. Only 20 men have ever thrown a perfect game in the 130 years since the leagues began. No one has done it twice. This was a big deal. This was history in the making.

Galarraga threw a pitch with two outs in the ninth inning. The ball was hit to the first baseman. Galarraga covered first and caught the toss to record the final out and put his perfect game in the history books as the 21st man ever to do it. History was made…until Jim Joyce, the first base umpire, blew the call. He called the runner safe. There was, and is, no question: the runner was out.

The inning continued for one more batter and then the game was over - a one hitter. An outstanding game, yes, but not the perfect game for the record books.

Immediately following the game Joyce reviewed the call in the umpire’s locker room.

And this is where the amazing part starts. He realized he was wrong. He went into the Detroit locker room (which is unheard of), and found Armando Galarraga. Joyce looked Galarraga in the eye and said, "I was wrong. I cost you the perfect game. I am sorry." In other words he behaved like an adult. No excuses, no hedging, no "yeah, buts." Just a simple, "I was wrong, I am sorry." He admitted his error and took responsibility.

That act alone was great, but the story gets better. The "victim" in this story is Armando Galarraga, and to some extent his teammates. He was robbed of his place in history; his manager and teammates their chance to be part of that history. He knew at that moment that he will very likely never pitch another perfect game. This makes his response to Jim Joyce so spectacular. He returned Joyce’s gaze and said, "I forgive you."

What are the odds that two adults in a highly charged situation in today’s day and age would be standing in the same ball park, at the same time, 60 feet and 6 inches from one another? What are the odds that when confronted with life changing events that could have made one man significantly wealthy and protected another man’s professional reputation, both would choose to take the high road and opt for civility and compassion rather than selfishness and dramatics?

What we witnessed was class, professionalism, maturity. Peggy Noonan in her June 4th editorial, "Nobody’s Perfect, but They Were Good," caught the entire spirit of the moment perfectly when she referred to the participants as "adults."

Strikingly, in a story very different in content, the same reference was used. Daniel Henninger wrote in his June 3rd Wall Street Journal editorial, "Beating Up on Israel," about the voluminous hot air emanating from "leaders" in capitals around the globe about Israel’s response to the Palestinian flotilla. He referenced the "over the top" blather of Turkey, Iran, France, Denmark, Spain, Greece and Sweden to name only a few.

Of the UN’s U.S. delegation and Germany’s Angela Merkel, Henninger wrote that the parties were "circumspect in their remarks." He further wrote, "An adult of two is still on duty."

The message should be clear, and it applies to the macro and the micro; from foreign policy to U.S. business to America’s favorite pastime: times are complex, stakes are high. And in difficult times, when pressure is peaking and much can be gained or lost, adult, mature behavior still matters. Indeed, regardless of the images most often in front of us, it matters most of all.

It is the duty of all of us then, to make an impact in this regard, because what is modeled is mimicked. If we choose to conduct ourselves as adults, shelve the drama, give conscious consideration before we respond, and live publicly with the consequences of our actions, we will become adult-like. And those around us will begin to step up their behavior. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former U.S. Senator from New York and a noted author, described the danger of our society’s encouragement of immaturity in his book Pandemonium: Ethnicity and International Politics. He wrote about society changing the definition of unacceptable (deviant) behavior to cope with the amount of deviancy occurring. We simply stop calling it deviant so we don’t have to admit it exists, and thus expend the energy to address its cause.

It is time to "define up" maturity again and to start recognizing and expecting adult behavior from every member of society that is legally adult; the demands of the marketplace and the global community require it.