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Monday, February 8, 2010

Experience or Stodginess

As we age our personality becomes more deeply defined. Some might call this "character" while others degrade it as "rigidity". As a young man I realized that I liked creme brulee and scotch whiskey (just not together) and that I did not like gummy bears or Gin. Is the narrowness of my choices today a function of my stodginess or wisdom of experience?

Likewise what is it that occurs when an older person stands up for what they believe in? Is it wisdom and experience talking or is it someone living in the past and yearning for the old days? Carl Yung speculated that "A human being would certainly not grow to be 70 or 80 years old if this longevity had no meaning to the species."

So what is this meaning Jung alludes to? I would like to think, as George Vaillant says, that our elders are the keepers of the meaning or justice and justice requires a more non-partisan and less personal approach. Dr. Vaillant goes on to say "We need dispassionate judges as much as we need passionate trial lawyers. If the task of young adults is to create biological heirs, the task of old age is to create societal heirs."

Most gerontologists agree that one of the tasks of aging is generativity. However, generativity, at least as I know it and experience it, is caring for a person, which, although likely to win us more love from those around us, is not the same as doling out justice. And isn't justice more desirable and needed, now? Living life in order to be liked and for the "roar of the crowd" is nice but is it what society needs from our elders? Isn't our collective experience a source of wisdom for the future? Or is it just stodginess?

I wonder!

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