The Problem Of Our Time and Culture: There Are No Elders
The problem with not having old people in positions of counsel (and I am not talking of 45 year old or 55 year olds, I am talking of a long and profound experience of life and the ability to make sense of it, coupled with love for humanity, in a senior) is that there is no messenger in the culture who can tell us: “You can make mistakes.. You are young… Allow yourself to be your age… It is fine to make mistakes, you will learn in time.. Give it a try...”
Instead, we are being chastised by people who haven’t explored themselves at all, who project their fear of missing out onto the world, by people with painful early childhood experiences whose caretakers were too busy working, working for goals a child can not understand or cherish, and with memories of being rushed to “grow up” “faster”, to be more mature than a child can be — fairly common childhoods with overworked parents and unavailable grandparents or trustworthy older, patient people in the community a child could turn to for perspective and acceptance… Or we are being chastised by the law for engaging in actions that may have been fun in the moment, but were not contemplated and pretty dumb in retrospect, that did not support our beliefs at all or our ideas about what we wanted to achieve even within the coming five years, not to speak of the next fifty years.
So a teenager thinks that two months ago, he was a ”totally” different person, why bring up a blunder from a time so long ago, when he was naive and embarrassing.. And something about that style of thinking is active in the way the Culture of Hungry Ghosts thinks too… “Oh, that was so long ago… Why talk about it?” — when the event happened four months ago and could provide some sort of nourishment, pause, or understanding of what motivated the person.
Once we start functioning like adolescents, and there is no doubt that most people today function like adolescents without a community (in many cases, the community is not only absent subjectively, but objectively as well), we make decisions that resemble the decisions of adolescents, and we hold onto a self-image that is as fragile, unburdened by experience, and as grounded in reality — in other words, in genuine actions — as a teenager’s. There is no elder to hold anyone accountable and appeal to a sense of balance, fairness, or health, to encourage that growth that needs to happen, or to nip problematic, self-destructive or neglectful behaviour in the bud… Who needs an elder like that? Who needs another person to tell me what I should do, what do they have to show for themselves; nah, I can’t have that old one cramp my style, or micromanage my every step — is what we keep telling ourselves for as long as we don’t want to discipline ourselves and for as long as we want to keep going as before. “My life is mine, thank you very much, I want to keep it like that.”
And then, something happens, a severe loss that shatters our confidence or a repetitive experience that is so off-putting, upsetting, boring, dreadful, or some other event that changes the perspective and makes us teachable, able and willing to listen to what life is communicating to us.
Life doesn’t speak with the voice of the arrogant prick who judges everyone but himself, who has no knowledge of his own unhealed wounds, but a resume of hasty choices he probably wouldn’t want his grandchildren to make. Life doesn’t speak about the urgency to avoid undesirable feelings, offering eloquent excuses about why it is urgent. Life doesn’t encourage you to keep humiliating yourself to reach the unreachable. Life speaks with the voice of the witness who asks you, “What is going on here?”, with the voice of the missing grandparent who chimes in, “How long do you plan to go on like that? Isn’t it time to stop? Why don’t you try that other thing instead.. You seemed so relaxed and untroubled when you did that…” Life does not resent emotional intelligence for being an older, more reliable guide. Life is trying to reunite you with emotional intelligence that we cut ourselves off wanting to live like adolescents in order to fit in with the Culture of Hungry Ghosts.
Life tells us what our values are. It reminds us of the times when we almost aligned to them, how very satisfying it felt to come closer to where we needed to be. It shows us how to develop that aspect of ourselves more.
Life is at odds with telling yourself a story about what you ought to want but doesn’t ignite you. It tells you why you need not go along with expectations that you have no desire meeting, find impossible, why you should draw boundaries and stand up for yourself, allow for honest communication, allow the other parties to examine their expectations with honesty too, mature out of their demands, search for what they love, or love what is, but first and foremost, allow yourself to be.
Conflicts in an adolescent society seem endless, irreconcilable, a normal piece of life, because what an adolescent does is assert herself against the perception of having no knowledge and responsibility (as in the past, as a child) and against being taken for a ride to serve the needs of questionable authorities (as the adult of the future) and disagreeing every time they demand self-deprivation and going without that what one most desires in the moment; authorities are cast as enemies, peers are cast as rivals going for similar aims or scarce resources, the past triggers feelings of being forgotten and of messing up — to be forgotten as fast as possible, pronto, who has the luxury, after all, to re-live “old” moments and look for the good in them..
Life perceives that as a phase, not as the final and durable mindset of an adult.
Life allows corrections that the loud arrogant prick will not grant you, because his livelihood depends on winning a verbal battle instead of winning your respect and curiosity about what else he might know.
Life can win that respect and curiosity, because life holds your feelings and invites you to learn from them, however slow that is. To life, “slow” is progress, while going in circles is not.
To life, forgiveness and discernment are medicines that you will make and take many times. Regardless of how many times you are being told that there is “no time” for forgiveness or discernment, only time to beat on a dead horse or suck it up, buttercup, just speed up and move, with three exclamation marks, life will teach you how to keep what is valuable and get over what is not.
A culture without elders is cartoonish and without warmth. We don’t need more cartoons. There is no wisdom in cartoons, only anxious laughter to a message that often isn’t a message. We do benefit from more warmth, more receptiveness to the feeling plane, and elders — people who have dug into themselves, found their psyche, and can tell you that what will amaze you most is not how you ran away from yourself, but how you began to come back to yourself.
Artwork by Jose Apaza Ilich