The endless dance in American society is that of the old and the young thinking equally as disparagingly of each other. Kids these days are rude, awkward, lazy, weak, entitled, selfish, tech-obsessed snowflakes who have no work ethic. Old people, by the way, are now defined essentially as everyone over the age of 45 (since the absolute oldest millennials are turning 40 this year, 40 can’t be old…unless you’re in Generation Z, then old people begin being old at 30, and you’re elderly if you’re over 50). Old people are mean, out of touch, bigots, who destroyed the economy a decade and a half ago, making life far much harder than it had to be, and like to walk around reminiscing about “the good old days,” which is easy to do since they destroyed the planet that other generations will never get to enjoy, and they’re just generally slow and in the way.
Let’s establish first that age is both a number and a mindset. My co-host Dawn has been in her 50’s mentally since she was in her twenties, while my 90-year-old father is, and always has been in his early 40’s in regards to his outlook, attitude, and approach to life. Acting old and being old are two entirely different things and often determine whether a person whose age is a certain number is “cool for an old person,” or is simply “old.”
The difference is, however, that at some point, you can’t physically hide that you’re aging. While there are plenty of creams, potions, serums, and procedures available these days, along with endless information about how we can better treat our bodies along the way to slow the effects of aging, it still shows. Jennifer Aniston and Halle Berry are often cited as two examples of women who don’t look their age. True, and were they not famous, (which allows us to know that their exact ages are 52 and 55 respectively), and we saw them in public for the first time we would no doubt say “wow, what a couple of beautiful older women.” John Stamos, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, and Steve Carell certainly look younger than the traditional expectation of a man in his late 50’s (Stamos, Lowe, and Carell are 57 and Cruise is 59…FIFTY-NINE! Maybe there is something to that Scientoxicity stuff). The truth is, though, that if they weren’t famous, each one of them would be viewed by a total stranger as being “an attractive man for his age,” or a “good-looking older man.” And it isn’t because we watch celebrities age and do an A-B comparison…it’s because all of the procedures and potions in the world can’t hide the weathering our bodies absorb. We’re no different than wood…you can weather protect it properly and by the book, and instead of ten years, you’ll get 40 out of it. But at 40, it will inevitably show signs of rot and decay that will continue no matter what you do until it merely crumbles to dust…just like us.
This is how and why Ageism remains the last acceptable prejudice in America…and yes, I know comedian Bill Maher has been saying that for over a decade, so all credit to him for both the phrase and legitimacy of the thought. While bigotry and prejudice will remain a part of the human condition in perpetuity, amongst agreed-upon social stigmas and attitudes, making fun of peoples’ ages is the only one that gets almost zero pushback, with very rare exceptions. When someone who has crossed whatever that threshold for you is in terms of the calculus between your age at the time and the age over which anyone is old, says something that you don’t agree with, it’s as simple as “well you’re just old,” and people just nod their head, as if to say, “yeah, those are just two different generations disagreeing. It happens.” But that’s both simplistic and wrong. They didn’t merely disagree, the older person was dismissed entirely because of their age, as though that’s an acceptable way to end an argument. It would never, and should never, be okay to end a discussion on financial prosperity and affluence with a black person by saying, “well you’re black, you’re never going to understand.” If you were lecturing someone about long hours and a solid work ethic, ending that lecture with “why am I wasting my time saying this to a Mexican,” you should not garner a knowing head nod from all who heard it.
This, by the way, is nothing new for me. There’s another thing we do when we’re young…we dismiss someone who has gotten older as merely trying to “hold on to their youth,” or we don’t even listen to what they are saying about life because we’re just old, as though that means old people are suddenly of no value at all. I turn 50 next month, but I’ve been speaking and writing about this for years, hoping to change at least a few hearts and minds, with little provable success. I recognized early on in life that the people who had what I wanted, whether it be financial, emotional, psychological, or material, were all people older than me. Rather than dismissing them, as most of my peers did, I sidled up and learned. Who better to show me how to get to where I want to be than someone who is already there? If I’m lost in a forest and a 25-year-old says “I think it’s over this way. I’ve never been that way, but I’m pretty sure,” while a 65-year-old says “I’ve spent most of my life in these trees, I’ll show you the way,” trust me, I’m following the “old man.”
I made a commitment to myself to stay true to the understanding that people of all ages and generations have value and things to offer and mocking their various shortcomings will not help me improve as a person, which is my ultimate goal. When I was younger, I did my best to not dismiss someone’s ideas merely because they were a generation or more ahead of me, especially since I hated it when I was dismissed for being young, inexperienced, or immature with no validity to the sentiment other than trying to hurt me.
As a guy about to be 50, I’m now right in the middle…People both a generation older and younger are major parts of my life, and while I notice when those younger are making the same mistakes I made, I try to remember how important those mistakes are to make, and they must travel that journey their way, and without me telling them what they’re doing wrong (unless they ask, at which point I know they’ll most likely not listen, but I will at least offer my perspective). When I notice that someone a generation older than me is frustrated by the way young people talk or how sensitive they are, and how they’re “ruining everything,” I try to remember that every older generation since the dawn of time has said that, and I don’t possess their additional couple decades of experience. I also sometimes remind them that my generation is the one that created and raised the generation they now say is ruining everything, so maybe we should blame the right group of people…or maybe, we should stop all of this.
“Respect the elderly,” is one of my most loathed phrases. Why not “respect everyone?” Since that will never happen, might I suggest “don’t disrespect the elderly merely because they’re older?” It’s a lot for a bumper sticker and today’s American attention span, so I know it’ll never take off, but it was worth a shot.
Perhaps the most common, lazy, go to put down of those “older” is they just don’t get it. Old people DON’T get it, when it relates to the appeal of sitting in front of a tv pretending to kill people on video games for hours on end, much like the young rarely get why old people think sitting around for hours on end playing cards with each other is fun.
But, what old people do get, that the young don’t…is life; and there’s nothing young people hate hearing more than that because they’re convinced that they have it all figured out…which is ironic, since we think we know everything as teenagers, and by 25 we’re laughing at how immature we were and much we’ve grown and changed. By 40 we’re sayings things like “I wish 40-year-old me could talk to 25-year-old me,” and yet we can’t for the life of us apply that to people 2 or 3 times our age in regards to seeking them out for wisdom.
And that’s what’s missing from all of this; wisdom. As the aforementioned Bill Maher said recently tackling this subject yet again, you’re beautiful when you’re young…when you’re old, you’re wise…and wisdom isn’t something that you can just Google. In fact. If you did, you’d get only the definition, which is: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.
In doing some research for this Soapbox, I came across an article entitled “Why Older People Have Always Trashed Young People,” and the answer to the headline is essentially…fear. Once we recognize that we are now “older,” we become afraid…of everything, was the premise. We’re terrified of change, our mortality, becoming irrelevant, etc. After finishing the piece, I sat staring at it with my eyes half-closed pondering this assertion, and decided to research the person who wrote it. His name is Jason Feifer, and when he wrote it, he was 37. Aahhhhhhhhhh…yes…37. That’s the sweet spot; when we’re in stage 3 of knowing that we have life all figured out and yet we’re still relevant and important because, hey, at least we aren’t 40!! I never lived it, but I’ve seen the mindset play out countless times. I know nothing of Jason Feifer, but I would guess he’s the type who is terrified of turning 50 because at that point, for him, it’s all over, and he joins the class of people that is be pitied because they’re all just afraid of fading away. https://gen.medium.com/why-older-people-have-always-trashed-young-people-8f918529009a
One month from turning 50, I’m the best me ever. My company is thriving financially at record levels, and the RAD RADIO show is more popular than it has ever been. I’m married to my perfect mate (a generation younger than me, BTW), have amazing friendships, and worry about nothing. Literally, I have zero anxiety, pretty much about anything ever…because I have the experience, knowledge, and good judgment to know that life, and I will be fine. The only reason everything in my life is so good is because of all of that I have lived, combined with remaining open to new, better, and different ways of thinking and doing things that people younger than me can teach and show me. And of course, I never hesitate to pick up a phone and call someone born 15 years or more before me and ask for advice and perspective. So when a millennial or member of generation Z doesn’t like or agree with something I say or do, and can’t offer any sort of objection to it other than “you’re just old,” I embrace it. You’re right, youngster, I am old, and you’re stupid. That may sound harsh, but the truth is that a well-adjust, self-aware younger person would never think that it was acceptable to dismiss the opinion of someone they were disagreeing with merely citing their age. It’s quite literally a stupid thought and tactic and identical to the racist examples given earlier. You see, like Farmer’s Insurance, I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two…and the only difference between my self-confidence and yours’ is that mine exists and is legitimate.