Saturday, February 1, 2014

When Does Somebody Become Old?

So where do we draw the line between 'young' and 'old'? Is it 25? 30? 40? 50? Or 60?

I actually believe being old is not a number, but a life stage you enter when you are ready to. When 25 year olds get told that they are old, it often causes a crisis (as we have been talking about so far). When 40 year olds get told that they are old, it doesn't cause such a major crisis usually, but they surely don't like it much either. But when a 70 year old gets told that they are old, chances are that they would be willing to accept it as a matter of fact. The typical 70 year old doesn't enjoy the physical limitations of being old, like lower mobility, back pain and having to take their medication every day, but they are probably not that bothered to be considered by society as old people.

I believe people are content to accept the label 'old' when they are ready. This would be when they have done what they set out to do in life, and have played the role they were born to play. This surely can be said of most 70 year olds out there, hence their contentment with being old. At 40, chances are that you have only very partially achieved the above contentment, hence you don't want to be old yet. At 25, chances are that you haven't even fully explored your dreams and your own narrative in life, to be told that you are old is like being told that life is almost over even before it really had a chance to bloom. In other words, you are old and are contented to be so when you feel that you have done your life's work. To tell a 25 or a 40 year old that they are old is simply illogical and cruel, even if that is what our media is effectively saying.

Old is settled, content and accomplished then. The opposite of 'old' is 'young'. If that's the case, then young must carry with it ideas of being unsettled, not yet content and wanting more in life. Because being old is settled and content, it is calm and charming in its own way, and not only the people who are ready to be old can appreciate that, we the not-yet-old can also appreciate these qualities in old people. Because being young is unsettled and unsatisfied, it carries with it an energy to do things, an energy to dream, an energy to achieve. In other words, the state of being 'young' carries with it the required energy to do what it takes to become accomplished and contented in life, and when the work is done, this energy ceases and is replaced by a calm contented feeling that is the state of being 'old'. In life, if you want to live it fully, first you need to be young and fully embrace that spirit of being young by embracing your dreams and going for it with all your energy. Then, when your life's work is done, you will enter into a contented old age. The more you are able to embrace being young, the more you are able to have a contented, golden old age.

Therefore it is important for young people to embrace being young, and it is truly toxic that some sections of the culture are making them feel old. This is why we must fight back against the distortion.

30 is the new 20, we often people say. And 40 is the new 30 too, apparently. Many people have laughed at these slogans, as if they are silly things people say. After all, physically 30 cannot really be the new 20, right? And a 40 year old will always look and function like a 40 year old, no matter if it's 2014, 1984 or 1954, right? They are just thing people say to cope with getting older in a youth obsessed culture, making this difficult reality easier to swallow, right?

Physically, thirty is the new twenty really makes no sense, I agree. But socially, it makes perfect sense. Why? As we concluded in the last section, people need to be 'young' so that they have the energy to achieve their life's work, and then when they feel accomplished they can enter old age contentedly. In a previous section we also concluded that people actually generally take longer to find their dreams, to work towards their goals, and to do their life's work to their contentment. That naturally means that people NEED to remain in the state of being young for a longer period than ever before in human history. A longer life expectancy has made that convenient too, but the driver behind this really is the delay in being accomplished in this day and age, rather than the fact that many people live into their 80s and beyond.

Many people have a strong reluctance, consciously or subconsciously, to embrace this concept of an extended youth. After all, this goes against our logical upbringing. Many things in this world have an absolute value that is objective and unchanging. Your ten dollar note cannot be extended into twenty dollars after all. This leads many people to think that any extension in the state of being young is purely wishful thinking from those who do not want to age gracefully. But as we have established, the states of being 'young' and 'old' shouldn't be defined by absolute numbers, but should be seen as two different life stages. Unlike your age, which is a simple mathematical calculation whose formula stays constant throughout history, life stages are relative, and in different periods of human history, different life stages have emerged (and more rarely some have been erased). The life stage of being a teenager, for example, only emerged during the last century, even though it seems to be just part of common sense nowadays. Even though it wasn't there for most of human history, for our generation the extended youth is real - you can embrace it, or if you don't, you will be forcing yourself to grow old before your time, a truly bitter experience.

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