Here’s one for you. At what age, which precise moment – do we get OLD? Will I go to sleep on the eve of my 70th birthday, current personality intact, and wake the next morning overcome by an urge to wear navy blue cardigans and write sniffy letters to small community newspapers? Will I turn in my sense of humour when they hand out the dentures? Will I become a different person? I don’t think so. After all, it didn’t happen when I turned 13, as I’d hoped. It didn’t happen at 18, as we’re told it should. Thirty has been and gone – and yup, I’m still exactly the same person inside as I was at the time of my earliest memory.
I’ve had different experiences, different feelings, a lifetime of change and learning – but the me that was me – is still there, still the same. As the saying goes – everywhere I go – there I am. That’s probably one of the biggest lessons we’ll ever teach our children. Deep and profound, plus it works as a Twitter update. Bonus.
So if we’re all still essentially the same as always – what’s up with the generation-gap idea? Why the persistent suggestion that retirement causes an immediate and permanent allergy to younger folk? Why the need to create imaginary rifts between people, to separate ourselves from each other? To willingly climb into those boxes marked “Teenager”, “Adult”, “Pensioner” and grumble amongst ourselves about how irritating / ungrateful / burdensome the other box-dwellers are.
Forgetting of course that we were once in each of those boxes ourselves, or will be in the future. You too, were once a noisy baby in a restaurant, distracting other diners. You too once had a tantrum in the supermarket. You too were once a sneery, self-centred teenager. Maybe at this moment you’re a stressed out productive adult with more issues than Oprah can shake a stick at. And one day, if you’re really lucky, you’ll be a venerable old lady or gentleman who may or may not wear navy cardigans. Maybe you’ll drive real slow. Maybe you won’t hear so well. Maybe you’ll forget things. Maybe you will need more looking after than you’d care to admit. Does any of this mean you’re different to the person who started out in the Noisy-Baby box? Of course not.
So my conclusion is thus: once a miserable git, always a miserable git. If you were a particularly unpleasant child, you’ll be a mean teen, arrogant adult and crotchety old crock. We don’t escape our basic nature, no matter how old we get. But Shady Pines and bridge are not inevitable, if that’s not what you want.
The different generations have so much to learn from each other. We should be getting out of those stupid boxes and listening to what the others have to say. Don’t you think? In 40 years time, I still want the chance to hear children playing. To smile at a frazzled supermarket mom. To wink at a self-conscious teen. To see and talk to people of all kinds, who are not the same as me, because that’s how we learn. Right? And why should we ever stop learning? Or living?Do you agree? Do people change or are we just older versions of our younger selves?Read more by Tracy Engelbrecht