In 2019 an international study into The Future of Ageing was published.1
Asked to define the age at which someone became old, the global average was 66.2 Asked if they expected to be fit and healthy in old age, over 80% agreed in South American countries, China, and Malaysia. Tellingly, less than 50% answered in the affirmative in many European nations, the US, Australia, Russia, and Japan. Yet, with the exception perhaps of Russia, aren’t these supposed to be the countries with the highest standard of living in the world?
A little commented upon aspect of the study looked at wisdom. 14% of those interviewed thought that becoming wiser was the best thing about aging.
Yet, the notion that age brings wisdom is a myth. Wisdom is identified with elderhood, yet, as Stephen Jenkinson laments:
“The proliferation of old people has not meant the proliferation of elders… The presence of elders in a culture turns out not to derive from an aging population. We’d be awash in wisdom if it did. We are awash in information, and an often inarticulate kind of mass blunt force trauma we call ‘experience,’ instead.”(3)
The study gives no hope for this sad observation to likely change. Whilst 14% looked forward to becoming wiser, between a quarter and a third of respondents said that they looked forward to very individualistic futures (holidays, travel, hobbies, and leisure.) Only 10% indicated they were looking forward to being able to help others, through volunteering. This disparity in percentages does little to suggest wisdom.
Yet, we live in a world today where wisdom, and the functions of elderhood, would be greatly welcomed.
That wisdom comes with old age is a myth. Old age wisdom is a fiction.
Age old wisdom however may be more what we need. That means that those of us who are now of an older age need to let go our pretentions towards a good life, towards the comfort of old age. It means opening our eyes to what is really going on in the world. It means becoming aware of and awake to: the cries of young people, the pain of indigenous cultures, the injustices perpetrated on our behalf by transnational corporations, the degradation of landscapes, forests, and oceans.
If we had been aware of these issues in the previous decades of our lives, now is not the time to sit back and take it easy. If we had not been aware in our previous decades, then now is the time to get out of our stupor and discover what is happening.
Stephen Jenkinson is worth quoting again. This time from a talk he gave at a 5-day immersion on Stradbroke Island (Queensland, Australia) in May 2019:
“Now is not an okay time for okay people to be okay.”
1. Ipsos, The Perennials: The Future of Ageing, February 2019.
2. I celebrate a birthday in a couple of days’ time that puts me a couple of years into the “old” category.
3. Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, North Atlantic Books, Bereley, California, 2018