1. The concept of age is largely a mental construct. Yes, our body does change over time . However, we often exaggerate changes to suit societal norms.
2. Societies (especially more hierarchical ones) often attach many expectations to age. There are certain expectations on how to behave and how to live. The reason for this is that age is a great tool for enforcing mindless hierarchy. “I am older than you. So, I know better.”
3. The truth, however, is that respecting someone because they are old is completely arbitrary. It assumes wisdom and that’s a flawed assumption. Wisdom doesn’t come with age. It comes with maturity, openness and self awareness. While the probability that an older person may possess these are higher, I’m not sure it is much higher because openness tends to decrease with age. A friend of mine feels respect is one of the most misused words in the English language – I can see why.
4. For illustration of the above ideas – think of five 80+ year olds you know. I’m sure you can name a couple who act and move about like they’ve reached the end of their lives while there are others who still possess extraordinary youthful exuberance (a certain Warren Buffett comes to mind). Think also about a few more older folk you know – would you consider all of them mature, open, self-aware, and wise?
5. Ageing has a lot to do with mental inactivity. I’ve sadly learnt this from seeing this with my grandfather. Until 10 years ago, my grandfather was known to be a 68 year old man with tremendous energy and youth. However, after his decision to stop working, we’ve watched him age at 3 mental years to the rate of 1 physical year. The difference is profound.
6. Television plays a very negative role in an older person’s ageing process. You can almost always be sure that their mental age is linked to the amount of television they watch as the television encourages a permanently vegetative state. Video games are better – perhaps theirs an opportunity in having older folk play video games?
7. If age is largely a mental construct, should we bother about the right age to do this and that? Only to a point. There are some things that make more sense at some ages – like university degrees while we’re young so we’re not a burden to our parents and becoming parents while being relatively young for biological clock reasons. But, beyond that, there is no right age for anything. It is all about being ready. So, the next time you hear about something making sense because you are at the “right age,” question it.
8. The biggest mistake adults make is they forget what it is to be kids (hat tip to J K Rowling). The toughest part about growing up is making sure we mature enough to not be childish but continue to be childlike. This means retaining an insatiable curiosity and a willingness to be open to any possibility that might present itself to us.
9. Age, wisdom and happiness are a wonderful combination. But, as Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says, they don’t come as guarantees on our birth certificate. We need to keep learning, we need to keep working hard, and we need to be persistent in the face of our attempts failing. None of this gets easier with age. In fact, I’d even argue it only gets tougher. So, it is up to us to ensure we stay mentally young while growing wiser through increased reflection and self awareness at the same time. It is hard work. But, hopefully, we’ve learnt by now that embracing hard work is the only way forward.
10. The best part? If we work hard enough on it – we don’t just get older, we get much better. Think of what a small daily improvement will mean 25,000 mornings later..