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Social Affairs: Blame the Oldies

It is sometimes quite striking how different opinions can often have common threads running throughout them; threads that despite differing methods and thoughts, are actually closely linked.

One obvious example is what our (often justifiably maligned) politicians say and do. All, regardless of party persuasion, usually go into politics because they want to make a difference, to put right what they perceive to be wrong. To enable their fellow citizens to have better lives – only the method differs. Something similar applies to those who are lucky enough to have a platform of some kind upon which to offer their thoughts on what they see around them, those like me for example, with this column. As it does to my colleague Lee Sibley, who wrote an intriguing insight into the mind of the young and his view that, again quite justifiably up to a point, the generations preceding his have and are, making something of a pig’s ear of running things (Questioning Life and the Future, January 22, 2018).

It has always been the view of the young that what older people put in front of them is wrong in some way, but as Lee rightly points out, this is more marked today than ever before. It is an undeniable fact that if somebody messes up, those who follow behind will have to clear it up and it is usually those following who are younger. Brexit is the most obvious example and, once again undeniably, it is those who are young today who will, at some stage in the not-too-distant future, have to unravel the chaos of tomorrow.

To do so however, there is one thing that the young must have that they do not, at present, possess. Before getting to that though, its worth pointing out that Lee is again right when he says that people forget what it is like to be young as they age. Perhaps that is one consequence of growing older, one that might be unavoidable in the well-established ways of doing things. Yet I think it is in fact, perfectly avoidable and one avoids it by listening to and associating with, in some way and however infrequent, the young. No matter what your age, young people bring energy and fun into our lives. The problem is, as I have written elsewhere (most notably in my book, ‘Comments of a Common Man’) that over the past two decades, the UK has seen a tremendous wedge driven between generations. Elsewhere around the world, in many countries, older people are valued. They are cared for when it is needed and they are listened to – just as they care for and listen to the young. Put another way, there are no divisions between people merely because of their differing age, unlike that which exists in this country.

The most recent example of the bias against older people in the UK concerns the road accident involving Her Majesty The Queen’s husband, Prince Phillip. The Prince is 97, by any yardstick a great age but because he was driving his car and was in an accident, there is an automatic assumption that he was the one who got it wrong and did so because he is old. And because he is old he must stop driving.

There is of course, an acknowledgement to be made that as one gets older, one’s physical capabilities tend to diminish. It is a fact that the speed with which one can

react to something slows down. Can you reasonably expect a 60-year-old to run as fast over a one-mile sprint as a 16-year-old? Not really. Yet here is a little snippet of information for you, one that most people will be unaware of; the peak of the human body’s abilities, both physical and mental, are the mid-to-late teens. Once you are into your twenties, it’s all downhill.

To reach the bottom of the hill does take a long time however and the time is spent gaining that one thing that the young do not have – experience of life.

That is not meant to be a criticism, far from it as it happens. Experience comes in many forms and there are things that the young experience that those older do not. This is where the vitality of youth is so valuable. If one cares to, once one is no longer ‘young’, so much can be learnt from those who are younger and by tapping into that, the experience that comes with growing older can be enriched. The reverse is of course, also true. The experience gained by those who are of any older age can help the young grow – if that is, those older do indeed learn from their own times.

This is where we as a nation have lost sight of things and it is what Lee meant when he is critical (along with others still young) of those running things now. ‘The old’ have not learnt as they should. It is not however, terminal. Anybody, no matter what their age, can learn but that is only going to happen if one has a mind that is open enough to do so.

It is entirely understandable for those who didn’t get to vote in the EU referendum because they were 16 and 17 at the time, to suggest that, as one banner stated, ‘Let the future decide the future’ as campaigners to lower the voting age to 16 demanded. ‘It is my future’, they cried. Very true – but it is also the future of those who were not 16 and 17 (like Lee at the time of the people’s vote in 2016) and it is the future of those who are older as well.

There is something of a contradiction in reconciling age and experience however, especially when it comes to politics; one thread on twitter recently demanded that all those who wish to become MPs should spend at least 20 years doing an ordinary job. It is a point of view that I tend to agree with – how can one expect somebody at say, 21, to know enough of life to sit in parliament and pass the laws that govern everybody else’s lives?

Perhaps if life experience was a requisite of being an MP they would be less inclined to make such a mess of things. We gain nothing from dismissing people because they are ‘old’ however (including Prince Philip) and blaming ‘the old’ for all that is wrong, and we gain nothing from not listening to those who aren’t. It is the dilemma of life; striking the right balance between any age and learning from and associating with, each other

Regardless of age.

© Kevan James 2019.

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