One of the biggest changes in old age is how we are treated by other, mostly younger, people. We are ignored, dismissed and made invisible based solely on our appearance.
Put the same words, thoughts and opinions we have in a younger body and the world pays attention.
It is hard to accept, this disregard, and for good reason. It is not a fairy tale that after decades of education, experience, study, learning from our mistakes and successes that we have gained not only a great deal of knowledge, but judgment too, something that only age can bestow.
”When I was a boy of 14,” wrote Mark Twain, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
I have been fond of that quotation for as long as I can remember. It must have been in high school that I first encountered it, a period when grownups (my grownups, anyway) paid little attention to what I said.
So I took heart not so much that in time they would learn as that in the long run, I would become old enough to have my opinions respected.
There is a period in each person's life – those mid-years – when that is true. The generation into which we are born becomes, in the natural course of things, the one that runs the world.
Recall what an important symbol of “arrival” it was for baby boomers when Bill Clinton, the “first boomer president,” was elected. With some help from the previous generation still holding a good deal of power and the next one starting to come up behind, boomers held the reins of control and leadership.
They were the politicians, corporate executives, artists, writers, actors, musicians of the day. That time comes to every generation and when it does, it feels like it will always be so.
Until you look around one day and there's someone your son's or daughter's age in the White House; that latest entrepreneurial billionaire went to school with your grandkid; and there's not a single pop musician you know anything about.
And here's the worst part: not one of them cares what you and I think. It's painful and certainly all our life-long, hard-won knowledge should have some use some application for the issues of the present and future. Shouldn't it?
It would please me if that were true but I am regularly disabused of the idea when my contemporaries insist on clinging to old ideas that have passed their use-by dates.
Take gay marriage. Pretty much everyone is astonished at how quickly support for it has grown for such a dramatic social change and if the Supreme Court decides the current case as is being predicted, opposition will be all over but for the shouting.
It is young people who have led the way as shown by a new ABC News/Washington Post poll [pdf] released last week. Take a look at the age breadown in the chart:
|Age Group||% Support|
The world is changing, as it always has, as it always must and elders are dragging their feet.
The gap between young and old is even greater for legalization of marijuana. Take a look at this April 2015 Pew survey:
|Age Group||% Support|
Legalization of marijuana is as inevitable as marriage equality but you wouldn't know that from elder opinion.
By clinging to old ideas when it is evident the time has come to move forward, we earn the enmity and disregard of the younger generations now in charge. And they are right to feel that way.
Or are they?
Could it be that sometimes it is the job (or should be) of elders to put the brakes on moving forward too quickly? To keep cocksure youth from rushing headlong into a future that has not been thought through well enough yet?
I'm not saying this argument is necessarily sound, particularly in these two cases, but neither is it unreasonable.