by Eleonora Vaiana
Growing older means accumulating experiences… but those experiences can take a toll. Our backs curve under the burden of time and the future shortens, sometimes bringing new fears for the future. Older people may feel changes in their personalities, becoming more surly and anxious as they start to worry about too many things.
While once they were considered simply adults, now they find themselves regarded as elderly by family members, friends, even strangers. They start to feel the weight of years, along with new illnesses, and possibly faltering memories.
Children and grandchildren, who have their own obligations and goals, often feel responsible for their elder relatives. While older people may feel pride in their own accomplishments and experiences, they may also start to feel that young people are “problems” because they don’t look or act as they “should.”
“I’ve been working since I was 10 years old,” my grandfather once told me. “I was married at 21 and my first daughter was born soon after. I made it through the war, despite food shortages. I suffered a great deal.” My grandfather made these comments during a family discussion about hardship. And I’m sure other grandfathers have similar stories of difficulty in life.
I often observe my grandfather while he watches (and criticizes) various TV shows featuring young people with crazy hair, face piercings, and smartphones glued to their hands. I also lose patience with him when he can’t understand how to use a basic cell phone with big buttons; instead of explaining how to use it (for the fiftieth time), I usually just make the call for him, to save time for everyone.
I don’t always agree with my grandfather’s criticisms about current-day society. But when I think about a quote from Aristotle, I realize that I probably will think about young people similarly when I get older.
Aristotle: a current portrait of young and old dated 330 B.C.
Aristotle, of the young, says that: “[…], they do not have a bad character but a good character , for not having seen so many evils yet, and are confident that they have not been repeatedly deceived, and are full of hope. […] They live most of the time in hope: hope concerns the future, while the memory concerns the past “(Aristotle, Retorica II, 12, 17-23).
Aristotle had insight into older people, as well: “[…] live on memories rather than on hope; what remains of life is little, while the past is long, and hope is about the future, while memory is the past. This is the reason for their talkativeness: in fact, time passes by talking about the past and, remembering it, they enjoy it ”(Aristotle, Retorica II, 13, 7-11).
Many of these conflicts between young and old are likely because the two sides think so differently. To young people, talking about every tiny pain seems ridiculous… but for the elderly, the future can appear uncertain and often frightening.
As Aristotle noted, older people’s place in society can be complicated. The young may feel the elderly are outdated, with ideas and routines that are no longer relevant. But on the other hand, because the elderly enjoy remembering the past, they are also an amazing source of history, opinions, and experience.
For all these reasons, it’s wise to seek out time with older people, especially relatives. It’s a great way to learn about the history of your country and your family, too. Older people often can explain recent historical events clearly… because they lived through them! Just be patient with them, and with any complaints they may have. Enjoy their memories; in a few years, and with a little luck, you’ll be talking about your own memories with someone younger, too.