We have a pleasant recollection of observing an attractive older couple, at a wedding celebration, dancing gracefully and in an evidently intimate and loving manner. The romantic scene afforded us pleasure, based upon our perception that the dancing two-some was reflecting many decades of true marital love. They were well dressed, smiling and demonstrably sharing an intimate and happy moment.
Our initial feelings of warmth and pleasure at this congenial sight, very soon degraded into those of annoyance and dismay, when a young woman, standing nearby and observing the elderly couple gracefully dancing, uttered a tasteless and insipid remark, “How cute, this is adorable,” as if an elderly dancing couple were outside the recognized mainstream of normal behavior or experience.
The narcissistic inability and unwillingness, of many younger members of society, to comprehend themselves as other than youthful and physically fit, to acknowledge the natural stages of life, and their short-sighted inability to see elder members of society, as appropriately normal and commonplace, we have labeled, “youthful ethnocentricity.”
Reportedly, by the year 2030, the number of Americans, 65 years of age and older, is projected to exceed 71.5 million, 10 million of which will be age 85 and older. In our recent writing, “MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEPTH” (#529), we observed the eternal trade-off between youth and virility, and aging’s gradual physical decline, but as accompanying its acquisition of wisdom and mature perception. The earlier mini-essay dealt with the maintenance of one’s positive self-image and esteem at such latter period of life and recommended the mature acceptance of its predictable reality; andsuggested the personal construing of personal and periodically, adjustable criteria for the attainment of realistic and acceptable expectations.
As can be discerned from the language of its opening paragraph, the present writing concerns the subject of the perception of aging and the elderly, by the younger members of society. It can logically be said that the older citizen is empirically familiar with the context of the life of the younger members of society, but, understandably, the context and lifestyle of the elderly, is yet unknown to the (usually disinterested) younger member. We will state, in fairness, that there are many intelligent and foresighted younger people who do possess an appropriate perception of life in the later years, having acquired the same by pragmatic reason, from literature or from experience with an older relative or acquaintance; but this is far from the prevailing rule.
It is a sad and disappointing observation that the elder or infirm citizen is, effectively invisible to the youthful generation, who instead, generally value proficiency in sports and feats of physical prowess. This short-sightedness is less evident in the younger person who a maintains an admiration for physical prowess, but also reads and aspires to acquire knowledge and mature perception. The latter class of younger person is included among those who understand that many of the elderly are wise and discerning and have derived empirically, a valuable perception of the world.
The revered scholar and philosopher, John Locke, famously stated, that man is born with a “tabula rasa,” (a clean slate) so that all knowledge and information is acquired, (solely) by experience. It follows that many of the wise and experienced older members of society can boast a substantial and wide-spread accumulation or mental repository of knowledge and a mature and useful understanding of the world. It may be observed that America’s wise and admirable Founding Fathers, inarguably, were not teen agers.
The thoughtful and perceptive elder has, over time, developed, useful understanding and an awareness of life’s eternal human issues and vicissitudes; and has construed useful approaches and empirically practical or just solutions, derived from personal, or third party experience or, perhaps, great literature.
By colorful analogy to viticulture, the best and most valuable wines are those which have sufficiently aged. In the intellectually gifted homo sapiens, time and experience lends immeasurable value to knowledge and persona. These eternal riches are irreplaceably valuable and far above the popular and ephemeral features of physical capability and are to be universally recognized and reverenced by all.