Our sense of propriety and fairness enjoins us to, initially, disclose to the reader the basis and intended meaning of the concededly, bizarre title of this writing.
Readers of Greek Classical literature may recall the legendary tale of “Oedipus and the Sphinx.” In accordance with the myth, Oedipus came upon the town of Thebes, where he encountered the Great Sphinx, standing guard at its gates. Anyone wishing to enter Thebes was obliged to answer a riddle. If he could solve the formidable riddle, (which no one, yet had been able to do) the Sphinx would let him enter. If not, the Sphinx would devour him.
The riddle went as follows: “What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon and three feet in the evening?” The arcane answer is, Man, viz., as a baby he crawls on four feet, as an adult, walks on two feet, as an elder, uses a cane (i.e., three feet). Oedipus, as expected, had the solution.
We are, unquestionably, included in the elder category, and thus, as “Man,” in the myth, we walk on “three feet”, perhaps, even monstrously. The varied subjects to be discussed here and in the future, (we are planning other, similar, posts), for what they are worth, will all be “perorations,” or our personal, conclusory observations, based upon personal, long-term, idiomatic experience. We offer the first three perorations for the readers’ possible interest and critical appraisal.
- Old age is not a disease.
The popular, stereotypic pictures of the idealized, individual, man, woman and child, are tactically, and seductively, portrayed by the advertising industry, to enhance the marketing of goods; and such standard of idealized images are, in one form or another, eternally and scrupulously, reiterated. The super-attractive human images portrayed for such purpose are critically and ideally, selected and configured, for the mass media, posing alongside, or in utilization, of the goods, advertised for sale. Supplementing this idealized, commercial convention, are media images of the relatively rare, famous athletes, super-fit as well as especially, proficient in their particular sport.
The ordinary or commonplace individual, as an empirical matter, scarcely resembles these tactically demonstrated, avatars of youthful high fashion; not to mention the elderly, or senior citizens, whose bodies evince many years of progressive aging; whose abdomen may not be attractively firm, and whose gait is, observably, less than athletic. Those who would normalize those unnatural, projected images, selectively portrayed in television ads, or seen at the televised, sports arena, might be easily tempted to perceive that the senior citizen, by grim comparison, is, sadly, in decline, generally incapacitated, useless and of minimal worth.
Of course, it is unhappily the case, that aging is, in fact, naturally and inevitably, associated with observable decline in prowess and physical fitness. However, assuming reasonably good health, and a thoughtful perspective, old age can be a time of fulfillment and mature understanding; the latter, often painfully and destructively, needed, but missing, at younger ages. The resolution of life-long dilemmas, the review and appropriate rational hierarchy of aspirations, the calm acceptance of life’s basic truths, are all matters acquired, empirically, at the time of one’s maturity. The physical prowess, inevitably, lost, due to aging, is acceptably compensated for, by a sense of internal satisfaction, derived from a mature audit and thoughtful understanding, of one’s past.
- Appropriate response to stimuli.
Stress is an automatic, physical, mental and emotional response to a chilling event. It is, as known, acceptably, a normal part of man’s life. Managing stress can help lead to a more balanced, healthier life. Analogous to the words of the famous song in the Comic Opera, “The Mikado,” My object is sublime, I shall succeed in time, to make the punishment fit the crime…” one should strive to make the extent of his emotional response, appropriate in degree, as is warranted by the objective nature of the stimulus.
It is common to experience personalities, who will inappropriately, and unhealthily, react with their most intense level of stress, to any presenting disappointment or negative event. Like, Mikado’s aspiration that the degree of punishment be appropriate to the seriousness of the crime, the rational individual should strive to make his level of emotional response to any stimulus, in accordance with the relative gravity of the event. A broken manicured fingernail is not equivalent to learning of a friend’s dire diagnosis; losing a favorite fountain pen is not as consequential as the death of a beloved pet. This admonition is not only protective of life and health but is determinatively, appropriate and rational.
- Success and Happiness
Our experienced conception and empirical understanding of the context of the word, “happiness,” can accurately, but perhaps, not adequately, be appropriately summarized, in four words, “it is strictly internal.” The mature and truly empirical measure of “happiness,” is not quantitative nor properly analogized to a scoreboard in a sports match; revealing the winner as the player who has earned the most points by the end of the competition. Man’s evaluations, most especially, his ultimate, impactful inner life determinations, are not quantitative, but qualitative.
Prior to retirement, we were engaged in the private practice of a profession in New York City and met many hundreds of people. Our clientele was in large part, highly educated people, of every lifestyle and personality. We learned that provided one’s financial situation was reasonably acceptable, happiness and the feeling of success did not turn on material acquisition, but on other criteria. We encountered many people with great wealth and assets, who were disappointed in life, and those in similar circumstances who felt flushed with success and felt successful. We also met a great many individuals of more modest financial circumstances, who evinced success and happiness.
Over the decades of our professional practice, we were, empirically, able to confirm our understanding that success and resultant happiness, do not depend upon the extent of personal accumulation of assets (boats, real estate, money) but rather, upon the ultimate recognition and inner sense, of a life well spent, and a balanced and realistic, personal sense of self-fulfillment.