On Being Old

The mariner has some years on him – age separates his association with the community at large. This likely has always been true through the generations. Younger generations grant elderly citizens wisdom without proof. In ancient oriental cultures (perhaps even today), an elderly citizen was considered especially important to the community because of the elder’s wisdom. Elderly often were called upon to make judgments about divided opinion. Even a gesture of deference was given by members of the community much as would be given for the Queen of England today.

The mariner suspects this elevated role was important in days when oral tradition prevailed before language could be printed. A lifetime of experience was a valuable thing in an oral culture. Today, the best that can be said for usefulness of the very mature is to remember family ancestry. Ancestry.com can do a better job.

The specific age of supposedly wise status is about seventy-two or three, when the family suspects the old codger (or matriarch) will be around for a while. The codger recognizes quickly that elevation is not what it used to be.

Older folks have learned rules about staying engaged, keep working, keep busy, and, if the wise one has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren around, stay involved with family activities. Further, a valuable asset is old friends, or at least a bunch of otherwise old friends. Keeping the mind alive and the body fit become a daily exercise.

All this is true, of course – unearned wisdom, the tendency to be set aside as life moves on, and the extra effort to remain engaged in life no matter what – but another need for the elderly is growing.

That need is to sustain the virtues of greater good, human rights, common law justice, kindness and other unidentified but critical behaviors that hold a society together.

The mariner often uses the mathematics of chaos to describe the state of affairs today. Chaos is a time when pressure to change the status quo grows in intensity until the status quo fails and a new status quo takes its place. A good example is rising resistance when closing an open latch; at a given point of increasing pressure, the latch suddenly gives way and locks – a new status quo for the latch.

Since about 1970, cultural chaos has grown slowly in intensity and speed. Hindsight provides a trail of increasing stress. The “oil crisis” weaves in and out of our recent history. Oil leads to shortages, quantity manipulation to sustain high prices, wars, and a battleground for world economic supremacy. The financial system of the United States has been brutal in an effort by everyone who can to become richer and richer at any cost until one percent of the population owns forty percent of all stocks and bonds. Agriculture shifted from one family farms to farms equivalent to Walmarts of the countryside, leaving many heritage landowners strewn in its path.

Electronic capability changes by the hour, increasingly wiping out traditional jobs, intruding further into our private lives, and distracting culture from managing its mores.

There is a new role for the elderly. It is a role as hard and demanding as any job in the lifetime of the elderly. That role is to sustain ethics, moral priorities, and to transition high-ground values as our culture moves toward the event horizon that creates a new age. It is the role of the oriental elder – to provide wisdom in an age where printing does not have a defining role.

What is the new role: become politically active; become active in local political and cultural organizations; become an active role model in obvious situations that occur in neighborhoods and communities; detach your progeny from electronic obscurity and insist on engaging other people. Keep a steady keel and hold the rudder on course to higher moral ground even as the waves and wind grow higher.

Often mariner is overcome by metaphors of the sea. However, the course is set: the elderly have a new role to play – advocates of civility.

Ancient Mariner

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