Thursday, February 24, 2011

AGING UNGRACEFULLY

He said, "You don't need no strength, you need to grow up son"
I said, "Growing up leads to growing old and then to dying
And dying to me don't sound like all that much fun"
-John Mellencamp, Authority Song

An aging population
As my hair has started to get more white than its dark brown of youth, I chuckle when I see ads for darkening your hair. I understand that vain and youth-seeking men will want this sort of thing but I'm proud of my hair color and it has taken me over 40 years to earn it. I don't want to cover it up.

When I was younger I thought I'd have life figured out by this age, and from watching my parents I thought they had everything worked out. Now that I've gotten this old, I realize that I am still confused by most of life and the main thing I've gotten better at understanding is how little I truly understand. As I age, it is odd because I view myself as fundamentally the same as when I was much younger. I am just a little slower and less energetic. What has changed, however, is wisdom.

As I have experienced various joys and horrors and sorrows and the ordinary pace of life, I've learned things which I could not have learned any other way. There are certain lessons and keys to living which only come to you through experience and travail, and that takes time. Older people should, by their very age and experiences, be wiser and more understanding than younger people. I have, much to my surprise, gained some wisdom over the decades, not the least of which is a better perspective on time; a year really isn't that long to wait. I have a long, long ways to go, especially compared to my mom who has decades on me, but I'm a long ways ahead of that youngster I used to be looking forward at the future.

Because it isn't some secret knowledge of life that makes everything fall into place you pick up, but little things like how to read situations, why people act the way they do, how to deal with problems and situations, and what to avoid that we learn most as we age. Unless we're truly fools, we learn that fire burns and not to touch it again.

It used to be that when you looked at an older person, you had more than a reasonable assurance that they would be wise and have experience to pass on. The elderly were respectable as well as respected. Today that's not so much the case.

It is impossible to characterize every single member of a generation in a certain manner, but few have been so uniformly similar and distinct as the Boomers. The Baby Boomer generation is starting to age past 65, and as they do so, they demonstrate the same restraint, wisdom, responsibility, and maturity that they've showed their entire existence. The main thing for them is to not actually get old, or at least if they do to not admit it.

Advertisers are struggling with this. Like it or not those hippies are starting to need arthritis medication, adult diapers, and all those other fun things they used to mock in their elders. Yet how do you sell this to a generation of Peter Pans? Ellen Byron in the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about this dilemma:
"We don't do anything to remind boomers that they are getting older," says Ken Romanzi, North America chief operating officer at Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., which has targeted the health-conscious generation as its primary consumer base.

Surreptitiously, companies are making typefaces larger, lowering store shelves to make them more accessible and avoiding yellows and blues in packaging—two colors that don't appear as sharply distinct to older eyes.

Invesco Van Kampen Consulting, an arm of Invesco Ltd., suggests financial advisers offer coffee cups with handles instead of Styrofoam (easier to hold), use lamps instead of overhead lights (less glare), and turn off the television when clients visit (background noise hampers hearing), says Scott West, a managing director.
Grab handles in showers are being repackaged as subtle "belay handles" like the aging boomer is climbing a mountain. Depends is redesigning their packaging to look like underwear. Companies are changing packaging to be opened easier with elderly hands, but don't announce it because that might upset the boomers. Shelves are being lowered and carpet added for less chance of slipping and falling in stores.

All of this is being done without announcement or fanfare because if they said anything, boomers would get upset at being reminded of their advancing age. Because to the narcissist who focuses on youth, getting old is the worst thing on earth. To a generation that considered anyone over 30 to be the enemy, tradition an evil, and older people a failed group of angry, bitter clingers who had to pass on for real change and revolution to take place, getting old is a nightmare.

This isn't an ideological split, Boomers both right and left are united on this. Read Instapundit where Glenn Beck writes and see if a week goes by without a mention of anti-aging research. Getting old makes you weak, ugly, and closer to death. Death is the absolute end of everything to someone who has been raised a naturalist -- someone who denies anything they cannot sense or test with science -- the dominant worldview of the Boomer generation.

Wisdom for the Boomer generation translates into "old, traditional, and past" rather than a greater understanding of the world around you which can only be gained through experience and revelation from the world around you. Wisdom tells you things that science and senses and even logic cannot explain, like "why its bad to sleep around." Wisdom argues that some things which seem so great and pleasurable ultimately are not. For the Boomer that cannot be true: if something feels good how can it be bad, they ask.

So the previous generations who saw aging as an exchange between vigor and wisdom now see aging as the enemy, wisdom as a flaw, and youth as superior. Now, when you see an older person, chances are they're taking viagra, coloring their hair, using contacts to disguise aging eyes, and getting plastic surgery and using cosmetics to cover up their wrinkles and sags. Maybe if I don't seem old, I won't really be!

That appearance wouldn't matter so much -- its certainly good to try to stay healthy and active rather than just give up and crumble -- if it wasn't indicative of a worldview which rejected mentally aging as well. Maturity is more than a number, it is how you grow and change both mentally and physically. Maturity doesn't stop at 20 or 30, it keeps going until you die, and it should bring greater wisdom, restraint, and a clearer understanding of life. The WW2 generation understood this, Boomers and later generations do not.

And that's the key: you can look like a 18 year old if you want to waste the money and time, but don't act like one. And someone who thinks they should look half their age will almost certainly act it as well.

*See also: Maturity and Neoteny

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