The way you know that you have reached adulthood is when you say for the first time: “I messed up. I am very sorry. I am ready to accept the consequences and I will do what I need to do to make things better.”
A student came up to me last week and said, “I can’t hand in the composition because I haven’t written it. If you will be willing to accept it after the spring break, I will really appreciate that, but if not, I completely understand.”
Then, another student approached me and said, “I didn’t write the composition because you refused to help me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I wrote you an email asking for help, and you never responded.”
For me, it is a point of honor to respond to students’ emails the moment I receive them. I go out of my way to make myself available to students who ask for help. Which is why the suggestion that I dismissed this person’s email made me hot behind the ears.
“You had a month to write this composition,” I told the student. “You see me in class twice a week. You and I have spoken outside of class on two occasions. Only this morning, we exchanged several messages. Yet, you never mentioned any email or the problems you were having with this assignment.”
“Well, I don’t know,” the student said, as the words “I’m such a lousy liar” pulsated on her forehead in huge neon letters. “I asked you for help, and you refused.”
An adult realizes that antagonizing the person you are interacting with by inventing a veritable calumny (because that is how I see a suggestion that I refused to help a student) is a very stupid way to proceed. By placing the blame onto the other individual by accusing them of your own screw-up brings the momentary relief of not needing to admit your mistake. However, you always end up paying a high price for this meaningless avoidance of discomfort. People lose all respect for you and nobody takes you seriously any longer.
It is sad to see people who are well into their twenties but who still employ the kindergarten strategies of saying, “I didn’t do this bad thing, and even if I did, it’s all your fault because you made me do it. And if you didn’t make me do it, then somebody else did because it cannot possibly be my fault.”