Opinion: Practicing a little patience when it comes to generation gaps
Editor’s note: This is another in a series of occasional columns by long-time Ann Arbor resident Robert Faber on what he describes as his most recently acquired area of expertise - growing old.
One of the benefits of aging is the inclination, borne of maturity, to help lengthen the short fuse of youth — like the kid who misunderstands an innocent comment and views it as a verbal attack and blows up, or the one with a fragile ego who sees a crossed eye as an insult and lashes out.
We seniors, however, experienced with the vagaries of life, can better understand some of humankind’s more outlandish idiosyncrasies and are more inclined toward patience and forgiveness. Some of us. Some of the time.
Occasionally, however, those idiosyncrasies can pose a serious threat to us — to choices we have made or values we have accepted or aspirations we have embraced.
I mention this now because of my instinctive reaction to the sight of some teenage boys I passed on the street recently who were in the throes of the latest silly fashion fad — trousers hanging down from the buttocks instead of the waist, the crotch almost dragging along the ground.
How they manage to keep them thus suspended is a mystery, but not so the why: it is to harass their seniors.
By now we should understand some of youth’s more outlandish peculiarities and be inclined to forgive them. If it were you who complained of it to me, I could calmly, confidently and wisely explain that these are children who are (a) protesting aspects of a society with which they disagree, or (b) simply finding a means of expression for their newly emerging independence. It is simply an unfamiliar aspect of their rite of passage into adulthood, into responsibility and sobriety.
Unfortunately, that objective and well-reasoned logic goes for you, but not necessarily for me. (As with most people, my special strength is in dispensing wisdom, not absorbing it.)
For a variety of reasons, as we grow older we tend to become less patient with some of the frivolities of youth. Some of it may stem from memories of our own moments of wasted youth, the guilt of having once been young and foolish ourselves — and from the mature realization that time is increasingly short for any sort of mid-term corrections.
With our own vistas so much more limited, we are inclined to manage our affairs and dedicate our energies with greater efficiency — or perhaps with a greater fear of lost time. We are anxiously hoarding our limited time and are offended by its waste.
On the other hand, of course, our disdain for the shallow and superficial concerns of youth, carried to its furthest boundary, can be reflected in the comments of Andy Rooney, that self-styled “lovable old curmudgeon” on CBS’s 60 Minutes, who took umbrage at the 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain, the 27-year-old rock star. What did that kid have to complain about, asked Rooney, insisting that his own generation had the Great Depression and World War II, but we didn’t go around moaning and complaining and killing ourselves. "What would all these young people do if they had real problems ...?”
The obvious fact, of course, is that individual problems cannot be measured against some acceptable norm - above this line you have our sympathy (but not necessarily our help) and below it ... get back to work or school or life, you slacker!
The problems of the aged may well be those of life and death, but they are not necessarily more serious than youthful problems of failure or embarrassment or dismissal by parent or authority or friend.
Some of the bromides of our youth were designed to teach us compassion and humility, to impress upon us the reality that some parts of society are much worse off than we, such as the Indian proverb of the lad who was sad because he had no shoes — until he met another who had no feet.
This, of course, does not mean that we have to embrace the more bizarre forms of youthful rebellion, merely that we should accept them.
The sight of pink spiked hair I can live with, probably because I know it will someday wash out. Nose rings and cheek rings, however, leave me not only uneasy, but seriously puzzled. How in the world does a youngster with a cold mop up after a sneeze? And assuming an attraction between the sexes, how do two people with rings through their lips kiss without their attachment becoming more permanent and more painful?
All of which touches on the defensive behavior of the aged. Perhaps as we grow older we become more sensitive to the limits of time and effort that bind us, making us increasingly greedy about time wasted that might be otherwise productive.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with falling pants or punctured lips or rainbow-colored hair; it's just that age sometimes makes us a bit more rigid in our attitudes than is wise or healthy —whether in politics or changing social customs or in personal relationships. The lesson we seniors should take from this is simply that we should never be too old to learn new lessons.
Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at email@example.com.