Friday, May 30, 2008

New Feature: Mailbag

Every once in a very long while, someone tells me that they want me to write more on this blog. I'd like to help out, but I've been a little tapped out in the ideas department lately.

So help me out: what have you been dying to know about what I think?

Email me at and mention that the question is for the blog. I won't reveal your name to the blog-reading public in general, I promise.

Age and Respect

A little while ago I came across a list of things that one was supposed to do to make the local community better. I remember two of them, one I thought was smart -- "Fix it even if you didn't break it" -- and one I thought was stupid: "respect your elders."

Now, in case anyone older than me reads this blog (I doubt it, but just in case), I'm not calling for a campaign against the elderly or anything like that. But I hear this "respect the elders" thing a lot and it never fails to bother me. When I was more directly involved with the Green Party I used to hear a lot about how we should be tapping this valuable resource that was the elderly; they were the ones who could guide the younger generation and so on and so on. In some churches, I understand, the board of directors is actually termed "elders."

But is it really the case that the simple fact of being advanced in years lends one a great store of wisdom and gravitas? I doubt it. Certainly, those who have been around the sun a few more times than the rest of us may have had the chance to acquire wisdom and no doubt some have, but as far as I can tell, age is just as likely to bring prejudice and bitterness as it is to bring compassion and wisdom.

The whole appeal to respect for elders is an instance of easy self-congratulation by those who make the appeal. If I look to the silver-haired old sages for guidance, I myself must be wise and thoughtful since I recognize the dignity and insight of the older generation. Don't fall for it. Judge people as they ought to be judged, on their own character and behaviour, not on their membership in any group. The young may be distinguished by their energy or burdened by naivete; the old may be enlivened by sagacity or weighed down by self-righteousness. Take your human goodness where you find it.