It is sometimes easier to head an institute for the study of child guidance than it is to turn one brat into a decent human being. – Joseph Wood Krutch
Everyone agrees that brats are unattractive, but we can fail to recognize our own Brattitude when it erupts.
Brattitude (my term; plagiarists back off) is attitude minus maturity. It’s the mindset we get into when we’re pitying ourselves, or resenting something that’s not going our way, or digging our heels in to avoid something we know we should face. So we pout, lash out, or withdraw. It’s us when we’re not at our worst, but at our silliest; our most childish.
In my own relationships I can see upsurges of Brattitude so, as Arthur Miller wrote, “attention must be paid.”
“The Hurrieder I Go, The Behinder I Get”
To me it’s largely about stress, especially the stress of the undone. The papers piling up; the calls unreturned; the hard talk avoided – they’re all part and parcel of my routine. Lately, either the days have been too short or my energy’s too low, leaving me unnerved by nightfall at how much I intended to do compared to how little was actually done.
So I feel guilty, and when I feel guilty, I get defensive. Then I project my guilt onto all the ‘thems’ in my life, assuming that since I see myself as a flake, they all must see me as one, too. But it doesn’t stop there. Not only do I irrationally assume they see me as flakey – I’m also mad at them for what I think they think.
I huff to myself, “How dare they consider me flakey when they’ve got so many flaws of their own and if they need any help seeing them, why, I’ll be glad to lend a hand, and don’t they see how hard I work and how much I try and how earnest I am and why do I even put up with such ungrateful, miserable, hateful people anyway?”
There’s nothing like mentally dismissing the population to get you pumped.
But when my Brattitude kicks into high gear, I start to dismiss them verbally, not just mentally. My wife Renee’s first, since she’s foolish enough to think that just because we’re married, we should talk.
“How you doing?” she asks when she gets home, not for one minute fooling me since I know full well she really means “You’re behind as usual, aren’t you, Jerk?” She wants to rub it in, for which she must pay, miserable wench.
“Fine”, I snap in cold, threatening tones, fiercely staring her down with eyes that say Fear Me, Woman.
“Crabby baby”, she yawns, brushing past me to the kitchen. She fears not.
Never minimize our martyrdoms; we brats hate it when you do that. If my pout doesn’t elicit sympathy, then I’ll give up on Renee and retreat back to the theater of my mind where I dismantle, disregard, or disembowel all who’ve offended me.
So it goes. Brattitude is our way of telling ourselves we’re overworked, misunderstood, entitled. It’s a problem of the flesh, certainly, self-centered and ludicrous. But it also gets help from The Enemy, who encourages the nonsense with messages of his own. I once heard that wonderful saint Corrie ten Boom speaking about the devil’s voice, and she said, “I always know when Satan is speaking to me, because he always starts by saying ‘Poor Corrie.’ ”
Makes sense. If he can’t trip us up with the juicier sins we’ve learned to avoid, he’ll be glad to snare us with sins of attitude – little Brattitudes, like the little foxes Song of Solomon warns against – that disrupt our communion with others and hold us back from power and love.
I often pray for God to work through me. I’m pretty sure you pray the same, since we all want to be vessels, and good ones at that. But I’m less fond of Him working in me. Anointing? Love it. Correction? Ugh.
So maybe because this is a season of correction for me, I’m especially sensitive to my attitude, because at the end of the day it’s not the gifts we’ve used but the character we’ve displayed which really counts.
A few weeks ago Renee and I drove through Carl’s Jr. and placed a quick order. The voice on the speaker told me it would be $12.95. When I pulled up he looked at me and said “$11.00, please.” I reminded him that he had said it was $12.95; he sweetly informed me I got the Senior Discount. Renee fumed; I thought it was hilarious. One look at this old guy and my hamburger got cheaper. What’s not to smile about?
But it’s also a sober reminder. Last month I turned 62, and if you haven’t grown up by your sixties then you are, to say the least, lagging behind.
Now’s a good time for re-committing myself to the adulthood I’ve partly achieved, then welcoming and looking forward to the inward growth He still, regularly and gently, invites me to.