Reasons to Respect Your Elders

They were going to change the world
Using the term "boomer" is now an insult online. As in baby boomer. 

I think it is easy for everyone to hate the baby boomer generation. Conservatives hate them because they were the hippies who promoted communism, the sexual revolution, and drug use. The liberals hate them because they were not woke enough, pollution and environmental decay increased during their lives, and they got us involved in many wars.

In short, baby boomers screwed a lot of things up and everyone hates them for it. So, boomer, is now an invective. Sometimes directed at actual old people (if you are a boomer and are surprised I am calling you old, sorry, I respect you but you are old) and sometimes directed just at a backwards mindset.

But I would like to look at the baby boomer generation and explain why rather than mocking them, we should talk to them, learn from them, and appreciate their perspective.

They were us once. 

When I talk to the baby boomers in my life about life in the 1960s and early 70s, they speak of an almost magical hope. Things were changing. The older generations had messed things up. They were fixing things. Older generations had been racists and sexually backward and they were ushering in a new way of living. Openness. Love. Peace. A new perspective was needed. And they were the new perspective.

Most young people feel this way. Today's generation of young people clearly do. We have a new sexuality. We have new forms of 'hate' we are fighting against. It is those dumb old people that screwed things up and we are going to fix it.

We will be them someday

But when I talk to baby boomers today, they rarely have the same optimism. The liberal boomers in my life talk with regret that not enough changes were made. If only they had pushed harder or convinced more people, they could have done all the good they wanted to. The conservative boomers talk with regret about the changes they once pushed for. Communism, they now admit, was a bad idea, and traditional sexual ethics and religious principles are not the worthless things they once supposed. Almost all baby boomers I know, no longer have the extreme self confidence of being right that you see in footage taken of them back in the 60s. Regardless of their politics, they have learned lessons. Things are more complicated then they thought. Society is more complex. Time is shorter.

We have a society that naturally rejects them
Young people always have suspicions of older people but I think that technology has contributed to this. Our lives are driven by computers, phones, games, and apps. And in the tech world, older almost always means bad. You have an old computer? That sucks. You have an old phone? That sucks. You have an old car? That sucks.

Old = Bad.

And old people seem foolish when it comes to tech. How many old people ask their teenage grandkids to help them do simple stuff on their computers? It makes them look foolish and dumb. People laugh at old people.

But don't laugh.

Technology is not life. Phones and computers might have a high profile in our life right now but the world changes a lot less than phones might make you think. You are sitting in a chair. Chairs are a technology that is thousands of years old. You are wearing shoes. Shoes are thousands of years old. You are eating a sandwich consisting of animal and vegetable products that your ancestors discovered at the dawn of humanity. This weekend you will meet with friends, drink beer, and tell stories. All ancient traditions. In short, 99% of your life is ancient.

NN Taleb talks about the 'Lindy' effect. The lindy effect says that the older the thing is, the longer you can predict it will last. For example, shoes have been around for 4000 years. We can expect that in 4000 years, shoes will still be around. iPhones have been around only 13 years. Chances are they will not be around in 50 years. Chairs have been around for thousands of years. Chances are they will be around in a 1000 years. Laptop computers have been around for 30 years, chances are they will not be around in 100 years.

Old people, in other words, have experience with all the things that will be around when you are an old person. The stuff you laugh at them for not knowing, you will not need to know when you are their age. Instead, something new will come along that you don't know yet and you will probably ask your grandkid to help you with it.

They provide perspective
So, old people can see things from a perspective that young people cannot see. Young people are standing right in front of the painting at the art museum. They are focused on a single brush stroke of the artist. And they are confident they understand the whole painting. Old people were once close to the painting. Now they stand back. They have a perspective that young people simply do not have. They can tell us about what is important. They can tell us what will last. Far from being foolish because they don't know how to navigate iPhone settings, they know that iPhone settings are not important when taking things in perspective.

They also are guides for the future. They have been through war. Have you? They have been through social upheaval. Have you? They have watched their friends die. Have you? They have watched their parents die. Have you? They have been through marriage problems, kid problems, health problems, and money problems. You  will go through all that. They know what it is like. They have perspective that you do not.

Only a society of fools considers the old foolish. It shows a lack of understanding about what is important (emphasizing the important of ephemeral things and de-emphasizing more permanent things). It shows a lack of awareness of how the world works.

So... do as every great society has done. Respect your elders. Learn from them. You do not need to agree on everything. And there are some elders that managed to avoid wisdom. But as a whole, wisdom comes with age. Rejecting that is the sure path to foolishness. Talk to your elderly neighbor. Call your mom or grandma. Listen. Respect. Learn.


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