Saturday, January 14, 2006

Perspective and Perception

On January 12, Ruth at Ruthlace posted an essay with some interesting insights on attitudes toward aging and/or maturing. (Ruth has two qualifications for writing on this topic: She holds a masters degree in Gerontology, and she has lived enough years to speak from experience on this topic.) I hope you will link and read the entire essay, but here are a few parts that sparked a response in me.

Ruth tells of an experience in which she was interviewed by a 14-year-old who had been assigned to get some information from an older citizen. She says in part:

...The first question Amanda asked me was, “To what do you attribute living to such a long old age?” Later when Beth was showing me out, she said she hoped the girl did not hurt my feelings by making such an issue of my “old age” ...

...One of the persons I love to quote when I speak to a civic or
church group about “aging” is Madeline L’Engle. L'Engle said,“One of the nice things about growing old is you do not lose any of the other ages you have been.”

Wow! Think of that! It is true. I know what it was like to be 14, like Amanda, and think 30 is old. I know what it is like to be 30 and think 50 is old. I know what it is like to be 50 and think 75 is old. I know what it is like to be 75 and know that 75 (and even 100) is just a number; and I know that 75 is a number nearer the end of the counting .

This insight is truly profound.

If we could make society-level changes in our attitudes about aging, perhaps our society would advance a little faster. What are the common attitudes toward aging that keep us from utilizing the wisdom of our senior citizens to develop better human relationships?

First, even though it is logical to assume that thoughtful and productive human beings DO learn something through life's experiences, the wisdom they gain is seldom passed down to younger generations because young people typically dismiss the ideas of older people as "not relevant" or "out of touch." Is this dismissive attitude learned? Is this dismissal of wisdom gained through life-experiences logical and helpful to human growth and development?

Second, years of life teaches us that much of what we believe in politics, society, or almost any other area of life is highly dependent upon perspective (think of the visual-arts definition of perspective - according to the appearance of things relative to one another as determined by their distance from the viewer). The same object, idea, or scene appears different according to where you are in relationship to it. It is common knowledge that a longer, more distant view usually gives a clearer "big picture." Younger people of differing views often don't seem to realize this fact -- it apparently takes an accumulation of years and life-experiences to understand that perception is often dependent upon perspective. Then by the time a person has aged to this point, younger thinkers dismiss him/her as irrelevant. Is it helpful to continue our general societal dismissal of the viewpoint of those who have lived long enough to see the "big picture"?

Now my progress in the Monthly Marathon for January:

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