The gym I go to serves a diverse clientele, especially in terms of age. It’s not unusual to see a 20-something working out next to a 50-something working out next to an 80-something. Suspended from the ceiling are several televisions, and using remote controls, members can put on whatever channels they like. The trick is, you have to stand right below the TV you’re watching when you change the channel, otherwise you risk changing the channel on ALL the TVs in the place—and wreaking havoc with the delicate TV-watching balance established between Fox News, NBC, ESPN, and the Food Network.
Recently, an 80-something gentleman sat down on the bike next to me and proceeded to change the channel from his seat (approximately 20 feet away from the nearest TV). I politely explained to him that he needed to get right next to the TV to do that, or else he would end up changing the channel on the other TV’s, too. But he completely disregarded my comment, and—surprise, surprise—upset the TV-watching apple cart, just as I had predicted. Instead of rectifying the situation, he declared that “no one was watching those TV’s anyway” and continued on with his workout, much to the frustration of those who suddenly found themselves staring at a snowy screen.
What’s the point of this story?
I know in these missives I often talk about the wisdom, experience, and knowledge Adults 50+ have to offer society—and that we shouldn’t dismiss this population just because they’re older and maybe not as spry as they were when they were in their 20′s, 30′s, and 40′s. And, I sincerely believe that. On the other hand, I see listening and valuing the gifts and talents people have to give as a two-way street.
As a Baby Boomer/50-something myself, I am straddling two generations—I have 70-something parents and 20-something daughters. I believe we ALL have something of value to offer each other, if only we would LISTEN. Age and time have given my parents perspective I don’t yet have but hope to gain over the next 20+ years. I often marvel at how much more patience they have for and with their grandchildren than they ever did for my siblings and me. And while respecting one’s elders definitely remains the rule-of-thumb in our family, they are more open to suggestions and advice (gently) offered by their children than they ever used to be.
Likewise, my husband and I often marvel at how much more our daughters know about some things—and not just tech-related things—than we do. They are extremely well-read and more worldly than we were at their age (and, in some ways, than we are at OUR age). And, while they still look to us for advice and support, there are times when they say things to us that are so wise and insightful we just shake our heads and think, “How the heck did they come up with that?”
So often we stereotype each other—and ourselves—based on the number of birthdays we’ve celebrated: for instance, people are “old and wise,” or “young and inexperienced.” When you get right down to it, age is really only an indicator of time—not of talent, knowledge, wisdom, and or even perspective. And just as I frequently argue that society’s aging and elders should not be marginalized because they are “too old,” I similarly believe that younger folks (a relative term, I know) should not be marginalized because they are “not old enough.”
The truth is, we ALL have a great deal to offer each other—and the world—if only we would take the time to LISTEN and give each other the chance to contribute. After all, age is only a number, no matter how old you are, right?