James Hillman on Why We Age
INTERESTING STUFF – 6 September 2014

A Short Lesson in Critical Reading

It doesn't matter if you disagree with me on this blog. Among other things, that's what we're here for – to exchange thoughts, ideas and opinions about what it's like to get old and maybe learn a thing or two from one another. It usually works that way just fine.

But now and then I just shake my head in bewilderment. Wednesday was one of those days.

At least half, probably more, of the readers who posted comments blasted me for being unfair to an entire generation. Apparently, they missed the word “professional” in front of the word “boomer” which I carefully chose to make it clear I was talking about one insufferable baby boomer, not a generation.

Professional baby boomers have been around since they were old enough to wield a pencil and they are the ones – not I - who, in all forms of media, have stuck boomers with the narcissistic, self-absorbed, it's-all-about-me label.

I stand by every word I said about that writer's article, and to the commenter who snarked about the story I've told regarding the day I noticed I was the oldest kid in the room? Perhaps you skipped an important part: that the realization sent me on what is now a 20-year research project, continuing still, to find out everything I could about aging.

No whining, no preening that teenagers think music I like is cool. Just deep curiosity about a time of life the culture I live in refused then (and continues to refuse) to discuss honestly.

Really now – some of you must start paying closer attention to not misinterpret what you're reading.

[On the other hand, I suppose I should thank you. I had other obligations on Thursday and needed a quick post idea for Friday.]

But wait. I'm not done yet on the subject of comments. For the past couple of weeks, John Oliver's HBO program, Last Week Tonight, has been on hiatus. To make up for the hole that leaves in our lives, he has been posting a short video now and then.

In the most recent one John, like me, reveals irritation with some comments – in his case, on the program's YouTube page. The only real difference between him and me is that he is actually funny which I am not. Oh, and also more profane.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Daniel B. Martin: A Twilight Zone Experience


I often find that more than half of my readers misunderstand what I say. At first I thought I was not writing clearly. Now I know that they just skim often leaving me pulling my hair out at their comments.

I'm glad you said something, because I thought I misread. I was in a hurry and wanted to come back to reread your post to check. Nope, I got it the first time. Professional as in professional complainer or professional hand wringer. And I so agree with what you wrote!

So often people listen/read/look with only themselves in mind ... and misunderstandings abound as a result. We "listen" while thinking mostly of what we want to say; we "read" with our personal opinions in the foreground; and we look with half-closed eyes. Thank you, Ronni, for making us think and for pointing out the difference when we don't.

Words are not always as clear as they seem. When I read "professional baby boomer," what I thought you meant was people in that generation who were professionals. If you had included a quick explanation of what you meant, e.g., "People who spend all their time talking and writing about being a baby boomer," I would have gotten it.

I read your entire piece; I did not skim. But I still misunderstood, proving once again that a writer should not assume that everyone will know what she means by a particular term, especially when it comes in a context in which bashing a particular generation is common.

I too read it as "professionals who are boomer age", however I wasn't inspired to comment because I didn’t read it as an attack on my entire generation. I read it as commentary on anyone who seems to think they shouldn’t have to endure the ‘downs’ part of the ups-and-downs of life.
It’s one thing to respectfully disagree, and another entirely to upbraid, and voice righteousness to Ronni, who has become a fascinating and welcome, morning visitor for us. It's okay to think whatever you want, but it’s kinder to save your thoughts until your moment of ire has cooled. We’re guests here after all.

You were right, she is a professional boomer. I think I left three comments on that post, the last of which was noting the odd coincidence of stumbling across another article by her that same day, which described her as a freelance journalist who writes for several papers. I was not familiar with her before that, but she does seem to use this boomer thing as a shtick, if those two articles that day were representative of her work. I guess it must be working for her so far. I, too, have been having John Oliver withdrawal and pulled up this Youtube video the other day out of desperation to deal with it. Eagerly awaiting his return this Sunday night.

I am still baffled at the vitriol about this piece. I liked it. It resonated with me, as someone who is struggling psychologically with the aging process. I am not embarrassed to admit that aging is an adjustment and while I am sure there will be joys, there is a great deal of trepidation. It is comforting for me to read about others who are on a similar path. That's what I took from her article. Definitely a different take from you. Then again, I'm 63 and early in the process. I didn't misinterpret your attack. I knew you were attacking the writer. I just think the attack was unwarranted. So what if her path to aging is different than yours? There are lessons to be learned from both approaches. I feel like you are spanking everyone who has a different opinion, and that is not a pleasant experience.

I'm glad that you explained your post to those followers who took umbrage with it. I think many people (me included) pick up a single sentence and focus on it without taking the time to understand the context in which it was written.

There's a lesson for all of us. Take the time to fully read the entire article before making assumptions.

You do know what they say by assuming, don't you? If you don't, I will be happy to explain.

Agreed heartily... am a very good reader! :)

Apart from the substance of your post, with which I agreed, you made me think about how often when I'm listening to someone I'm not really listening -- I'm thinking about what I'm going to say in response.

I wasn't sure how wide your prejudicial group was when I read you post but I still think there are winners and losers everywhere.

Laughed heartily at J. Oliver's brillent piece!

I love reading comments, but no longer on large sites where people often spew personal vitriol. Other times I'm usually entertained and/or informed by the creative and hilarious writings of commenters, such as on this site.

On sites I read regularly, diverse opinions are welcomed and at times serve to clarify an issue, especially when an article is too brief and incomplete, imho.

I also did not skim -- maybe if so many people misinterpreted what you meant, the writing was a bit ambiguous.

Ronni...Thank you for your post today. I appreciated it and I am pleased that you took the time to explain your position again. Many of the initial comments had left me a bit puzzled.

"Initial comments" above meaning your readers' comments.

I read this post and then went back to the original post. Sorry, Ronni, but even as I was warned that you were talking about "professional" baby boomers (whatever they are), I still read it as a bash not only on the writer, but baby boomers in general. I found most of the critical comments civil and articulate. I don't think you got "blasted." And I don't see the vitriol that one commenter today mentioned. To be honest, I was put off by your post today, "blasting" those of us who didn't get your meaning as needing a "short lesson in critical reading."

I am smack dab in the middle of Baby Boomerdom at the age of sixty-three, and I took no offense at your post. Many of my generation are having huge difficulty accepting what aging shows us- that we are not invincible. Aging is a humbling experience. And humility can be a bitter pill.
We are no longer the "Now" generation, and we aren't the "cool" ones anymore. I do think that there is a real trend among a fairly sizable per cent age of Boomers about wanting to appear young and cool.It is simply a display of immaturity.

First off, I was not offended by Ronni's post. Secondly, I saw no snark, certainly no "vitriol" in the comments about the post. I saw what I have loved about TGB--- people writing interesting and civil comments, whether in agreement or disagreement, about a post which they were implicitly invited to comment on.

My own comment may have been taken for blasting the premise of the post. I don't think so. But I have to admit that I misunderstood the intention of the post and took it as a criticism of how boomers (professionals) are not accepting aging well. Since I, myself, don't accept aging well, I didn't have the same problem with the Willens article, which was itself a blog post.

But here's the thing---and this is one reason I misread the intention of the blog post---I do not agree that Michelle Willens is a professional boomer. She is a professional writer who is a boomer. As a writer, for Atlantic and HuffPo and others, and as a blogger ("Face It"), she has written about virtually everything: film, politics, feminism, the glass ceiling, even sports. She has also written about age acceptance and several times about boomers. Calling her a professional boomer is the same as calling Ronni a professional elder.

TGB certainly has an emphasis on aging and elders, but it proffers many other subjects as well. Sometimes I agree. Sometimes I don't. I know my comments are civil, but I try also to make any dissent friendly as befits a blog by and about and for civil elders. I hope we can keep up our friendly and extremely interesting conversations without offending anyone in our circle of bloggers and readers.

After today's post I also went back to read the original Boomer's column. I take great umbrage with her assumption re Hillary Clinton as a candidate in the Presidential race..."It won't be much fun being the oldest in the race". What twaddle - give her credit for all her experience and hard work. Can't believe this woman calls herself a journalist.

Oooohh Ronni - didn't those comments get up your nose and vice versa! One of the things I love about TGB is that individual personalities come through both in your posts and in the comments -excellent work!

Today's blog felt akin to George Bush Sr. correcting Geraldine Ferraro. Patronizing. Yesterday's spurred a vigorous discussion which is necessary to the health of a public blog like this. I was kind of thrilled by the energy.

Enjoying reading the comments. I commented on both the original piece and this one. I said I didn't understand the vitriol. That got several people's attention. The vitriol I was talking about was the tone of Ronni's original post ,not what the majority of commenters were saying. I stand by using the word vitriol for Ronni's rant and her follow up. I like what Judith said -this post felt patronizing . As for the first post, I got the feeling Ronni thinks I'm (or any boomer who talks about the transition)a baby for verbalizing the psychological challenges of on old age.

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