I work with people of all ages, but especially with folks in their 70s, 80s, 90s.  Sometimes I comment, on those occasions that I work with a 20-something, I need an interpreter.

There is a common stereotype of older folks in our Western society.  I should specify, West Coast US society, since that's my experience.  But even though I state "Western", from what I've seen in China, youth culture dominates there as well.  Not as much as here, but still dominates.  In the cultural revolution, significant efforts were made to erase the past, and those abuses reverberate to this day.  In the US, it was our own "cultural revolution" of the baby boom, as well as marketing obsession with spending practices of the young, that leads to defamation of older folks.

I've seen many comments on the internet about how, in order to institute change, we have to wait for the older generation to die off.  On a daily basis, when I hear people say "It's because I'm getting old", it sounds almost as bad as if they were saying "It's because I have syphilis", or "It's because I have herpes".  Even people in their 40s complain that they can't do what they used to.  I've heard people in their 30s say "I guess I'm just getting older".

What about those folks I know, who are 70-something, 80-something, or 90-something?  What about their outlook?  It's wrong to generalize too much on personal experience, but here is what I often see.  People who are more gentle than their grandchildren.  Some 70-somethings who are supporting, even raising , their grandchildren because their drug-riddled children have abrogated that responsibility - and honor.   The most youth-oriented generation in modern times - baby boomers - aging much more poorly than their grandparents.   And not liking it at all.  I see people who have experience, stories to tell, perspective that is sorely needed.  I often see people who have learned to live more in the moment, but also plant trees they will not see mature, while their grandchildren cut down trees, just because they are there.  I see gentle humor, and sometimes gentle self-deprecation.  True, I've seen some genuine tyrants, bigots, and jerks, but not so many.

From npr.org, on the aging brain:


-Continued improvement in complex reasoning skills as we enter middle age. ("myelination doesn't reach its peak until middle age")

-Complex reasoning skills improve.

-More able to anticipate problems and reason things out better than when we were young.

-Empathy increases as we age.

-The human brain is always changing, from moment to moment and throughout life. It continues to develop, and even continues to grow new brain cells.

-increases in brain activity in the areas that control memory and decision-making.

So while reaction time is slower, and manual  dexterity can decline, and it takes longer to retrieve information, there are benefits to growing older. 

NY Times, "The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind".


-Makes the argument that the older mind may contain more information, more words, and more experiences, compared to the younger mind.  It may take longer to retrieve that information, but it's comparable to finding a book in a larger more established library.

I pondered this when we saw the news that Fred Phelps died, and there was word that he had been excommunicated from his own church for advocating kindness.  None of us was a fly on the wall at that Kansas compound, but it did give me pause.

And anyone who thinks youth necessarily brings progress, could pay a visit to North Korea, where the young Kim Jong-Un had his ex girlfriend and her associates executed by firing squad, and followed up by executing his uncle. 

What I'm saying is this.   Everyone either ages, or dies.  There is no choice.  Not everyone ages well.  There is disease, physical, mental, and neurologic, oppression by employers, family, and events.  Drugs and alcohol take their toll.  But old age should be embraced.  Some day, maybe, the older generations will take on themselves to re-name their status just as African Americans did, and LGBT people did, and other folks have done. But it is no insult to grow old, and there are things that older folks can teach their families, friends, neighbors, and society, that we really need to learn.

Thank you for reading.  Some time back, I posted my thoughts about potentially growing older, and will copy again here:

When I am an old man...
I will be surprised I made it that far.  If I do.
It's not that far away.
There's a good chance, I won't.
I will consider it funny to have aches and pains.
I already do.
I will not whine about being old.
Or apologize for aging.
I will consider it honorable and amazing.
I will laugh at myself for being funny looking, and bald, and having ears that stick out.
I already do.
I will be proud of my past.
I did a lot, against great odds.
And against fierce opposition.
I will be skinny and awkward, like when I was a teenager.
Only with more wrinkles.
I will smile a lot.
Or not.
I won't say much.
When I do speak, I will say thoughtful words.
I will bake sourdough bread.
And home made pies.
And make cornbread, and tamales.

I will putter in the garden among the bees and hens.
I already do.
And grow pole beans and zucchinis.
And grapes, and figs, and peaches.
From my beehives, I will give packages of fresh honey, to nice people.

My curses will be colorful and complex.
And used sparingly.
And aimed at the self-righteous self-important, and smug.
And greedy.
I will learn Spanish.
I will not consider it an insult to say "old".
Don't whisper "old", or use euphemisms.
I will consider "old" an honorific, respectful, and esteemed.
I will stand proud and crooked.
Like a beautiful, ancient, wizened bristlecone pine.
I will growl like an old lion.
I will tell people what I think.
If I like them.
If I don't, they aren't worth my effort.
My favorite shirt will be an old flannel shirt, from Goodwill or a yard sale.
I will wear it everywhere.
My favorite hat will be a cap I already wear.
It will be frayed and stained.
I will wear it everywhere.
My favorite trousers will be an old pair of khakis with side pockets for pruning shears and a pocket knife.
I will wear them everywhere.
I will grow the best tomatoes in the neighborhood.
I will tell young people, stories they didn't know.
About wars they never heard of.
And great minds no one told them about.
I might make them up.
Or not.
No one could make up a past, as interesting, as the real past.
I will quote Robert Green Ingersoll.
And Samuel Clemens.
My loyal dog will always be by my side.
He will roll in the grass and be covered in dust.

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There are both virtues and perils to aging.  The challenges to youthful idealism can make people become corrupt as they age.  I've met plenty of very sour, corrupt old guys.  Nothing like a poisoned stew that has been simmering for decades.

But then, I also think one reason A/N is a relatively decent place online, where people mostly discuss things in a civil way, is that there are a lot of retired people here with plenty of time to post.

My loyal dog will always be by my side.
He will roll in the grass and be covered in dust.

That's unless you become allergic to your loyal dog :(  ... (and to grass and dust as well)

very good discussion

Thank you Steph.  I've been thinking about posting on this subject for a while.

The anti-older people prejudice is quite overt in math.  Young guys wouldn't often say to my face "You're a woman, you can't possibly be very good at math".  But they do often feel OK with telling me that I'm too old to be very good at math.




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