Being Young, Being Old

Nora Ephron, the brilliant author of, “When Harry met Sally”, once said, “In fact, looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was 50 years old.” 
Yes, Nora, I concur.

With my own upcoming 50th birthday just a few weeks away, one of the many thoughts often fleeting through my head these days, is how I feel about aging. And one of the things I am most proud of, is that I have friends who are 30 years older than me, as well as friends who are 30 years younger, and everything in between.

But for me, this is nothing new, as I’ve always befriended people who were vastly older or vastly younger than myself. As for those who are older, I’ve always looked up to them, always had great awe and respect for the elderly — the grandparents that is, not the parents! Parents were usually the ones who ruined all the fun. But that’s okay, that’s their role; it’s their role to teach us that life is not all fun and games, and that we need to take responsibility for our actions, and bear the consequences of our choices. I get that now.

But now that the age gap between me and my young friends is getting ever larger, and the gap between me and my older friends, ever smaller, a recurring thought keeps popping into my weary, old head. Let me get right to the point and be brutally honest about it.

I often want to tell my young friends — especially those in their 20s — that they don’t know squat and to shut the f*** up and listen to older people. To not think that they are my equals. They are not. They have equal rights under the law, but that’s it. They have not walked the long, arduous path of their life’s journey, they have not earned their stripes, they have no idea who they are nor where their journey is headed, let alone know who anyone else is or where that person has been or is going.

So I often find myself frustrated with my youthful friends’ ignorance and arrogance. I often find myself wanting to scream at them and tell them to just shut the f*** up, be silent, and listen. To have more faith and belief in the wisdom and knowledge of those who have gone before them, and who know. Of course we older people don’t have all the answers, but we certainly have a lot more answers than those 20 year old kids.

The reason it frustrates me so, is that I remember how I and my generation, were just as ignorantly arrogant when we were in our 20s, thinking we know better than our parents’ generation, and refusing to listen to their outdated, old-fashioned, traditional, conservative rubbish. But that is exactly why my generation made so many mistakes — which resulted in the current environmental crises, climate change, unethical politics, lack of employment opportunities, and so much more. It is exactly because we didn’t shut the f*** up and listen. So it is no wonder that those in their 20s nowadays look towards me, and my generation, and think to themselves, “why the hell don’t you old folk shut the f*** up!! Look at the state of the world you have left us, look at all the damage you caused and all the damage you simply let happen!! Why should we listen to YOU?”

And ironically, the reason they should listen to us, is precisely because we have made those mistakes, and because WE have learned from our mistakes. Now we want to pass this knowledge and wisdom on to the next generation. But they are not letting us.

The sad irony of the story is that, those in their 20s, are making so many mistakes too, just like we did. And just like our parents’ generation did, and the generation before them, and the generation before them. And sadly too, they are making many of the same mistakes we made. So how do we break this recurring cycle? How do we get young adults to shut up and listen? Listen to those who have gone before, who now know better, who have learned from their mistakes and have — not all the answers — but many answers?

The older folk have had years of trying, failing, suffering, learning, and succeeding. Our global economy, global politics, world cultures, and the sustainability of planet Earth, all desperately need the success, the knowledge, and the wisdom of the elderly. It needs it just as much as it needs the vigour, enthusiasm, optimism, and innovation of young adults. So how do we convince young adults that they are, as Nora put it, “clueless” and that they should embrace the expertise of the old folk, for the benefit of all?

This is one question to which I do not have an answer. So as I continue my personal path of searching for the answer, I find comfort and humour in some words of wisdom from Victor Hugo: “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.”