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The Generation Gap – down with ageism, long live sageism

The Generation Gap

This has become a defunct expression: redolent of Haight Ashbury and portentously pretentious rock music which stretched about two and a half yards of musical imagination into forty miles of bad road, indulgent guitar solos. The word ‘man’ as a kind of new age punctuation mark, drifts into a dazed consciousness here.

A ‘gap’ has to be between something (or things). Well, with pot-smoking, pot-bellied 50 year-old corporate executives drifting into new levels of short lived self awareness in corporate hospitality boxes at Eric Clapton concerts, things are getting a bit blurred. On the other side of the coin, kids now stop being kids when they become consumers with buying power: at about 18 months old.

In the old days the young guys in suits and ties were distinguishable from the old guys in suits and ties by their taste in music, soft drinks or coffee. The young guys yearned 26 hours a day for sex but didn’t know how to get it: while the old guys got it as a kind of reward for long service, but really had no idea what to do with it, least of all how to share the enjoyment of it with their partners. Now, no self-respecting hippie is under 45 and puritanical 20 year-olds back capital punishment with aplomb. “What did you do in the war daddy?” elicits a response in terms of burning draft papers and the American flag, and being chased around Grosvenor Square by ‘fascist’ bobbies.

I guess the generation gap was supposed to be between the ‘old’ and the ‘young’. Well in the best traditions of South American dictatorships, the ‘old’ have been disappeared. Indeed when lying on hospital trolleys or in diminishing numbers of geriatric wards, they have become literally invisible. Oldness is now possessed only by people so ill, demoralised or poor, that everyone else can pretend they don’t exist without threat of reprisal. The old of the ‘older generation’ have become the new young, seeking emotional lebensraum in their children’s youth. Indeed in terms of self-perception, human beings now move from being ‘young’ to nearly dead with no intervening step.

‘Age is just a matter of attitude’. Not if you have arthritis or osteoporosis it isn’t. The inspiring, indomitable Alvin Straight in David Lynch’s superb film, The Straight Story is asked by a young guy “what’s the worst thing about being old, Alvin?” With poorly seeing, rheumy eyes and a weak back requiring the permanent aid of two sticks, Alvin wryly replies “remembering what it was like being young”.

Refusing to define yourself by the chronological fact of your years of life is one thing; re-defining the experience and wisdom of middle and old age in terms of an artificially prolonged youthfulness is another. Thinking deeper and wider; tempering impatient, thoughtless reaction with considered, deliberated action is as valid and useful a contribution to the common weal as skydiving at 55 and chatting up the youngest-looking granny you can find at salsa classes for the over 60’s.

As parents and grandparents we should stop muscling in on our children’s youth. We should take a pride in those things only we, because of, not in spite of, our age, can do. How can young people respect us if we do not respect ourselves? No point of view or attitude is of value simply because it is old, (nor young for that matter); but neither matured wine nor wisdom can be manufactured overnight either.

Young people will listen to us if we have something relevant and distinctive to say; not if we try to sing our old words to their new tunes. Down with ageism. Long live sageism.

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