Monday, January 09, 2006

End Age Discrimination In Your Relationships!

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with my good friend Henry. Henry embodies what I want to accomplish. He’s been married to his beautiful wife Marcia for three years, and hearing him talk, you’d think they were still on their honeymoon. He recently sold off his real estate company to spend more time on charitable work. He’s planning an African safari, works out every day, and keeps a close watch over the art world. And yet, some of my contemporaries think it’s funny that I enjoy hanging out with him so much. I can only assume this is because Henry is 86.

Relationship-building is a hot topic these days, and many of my friends are getting right in step. Still, it amazes me how few people my age (24) are cultivating friendships with much older folks. I’m not talking about being guilt-tripped into calling Grandma on her birthday, or occasionally helping an elderly neighbor unload his groceries. I’m talking about older people that you call on frequently, confide in, invite to your parties, email the latest good joke – in other words, treat like any of your regular friends. Why, you ask? Well, it’s a nice thing to do. But for those of you who remain unconvinced, let me list some advantages:

Older folks wield more influence. It’s no accident that, at 46, Bill Clinton was considered extremely young to be President. Although this is changing with the rise of young ultra-entrepreneurs, business, industry, and politics remain largely the province of the over-50 crowd. And it makes perfect sense: Older people have more experience, more eminence in their fields, and, perhaps most importantly, have been building their networks for longer. Who wouldn’t want to join a circle that’s been expanding and improving for twice as long as you’ve been alive?

Older folks can show you how it’s done. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have (well, unless you’re a certain uncle of mine, but that’s another story). Marriage, parenthood, your own parents’ aging – these are all challenges they don’t teach you how to face in school. And how could they? You don’t have to go it alone, though. Your older friends have been there, and are usually only too happy to pass on the benefit of their experiences and insights.

Older folks know how to have fun. Seriously. Although they often grew up in less permissive times, chances are your older friends bent a few rules in their day. They can teach you how to short-sheet a bed, and other age-old but ageless pranks. They know dirty jokes you’ve never heard, and they learned how to be bad boys from the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn. Who were they? Listen up.

Older folks have great stories. My friend Howard served in the B-25 squadron that inspired Catch-22, and you have to figure the wits he developed there made him the crafty poker player he is now. My friend Myles grew up in integration-era Mississippi, forging the democratic ideals he volunteers for today. My friend Taelen went to the same school as I did, forty years earlier, and knows a thing or two about stirring up trouble there – and getting away with it

Older folks can improve your karma. I’m sure that when I’m gray, I’ll want younger people around to keep me energized, share new ideas, and hear my stories. If I am so fortunate, I can’t help thinking it will have been because, having once been a young person who made friends with older people, I understand how an older person can befriend younger people.

There is much for us to share with each other as human beings. Why limit ourselves by spending 99% of our time with those born the same decade we were? I move we end age discrimination not only in the workplace, but in our relationships – and start enjoying all the tremendous gifts we can offer one another, young and old.

6 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

Could not agree with you more.

One of the guys I hang out with a lot is my friend Don, who is in his 70s, plays regularly in a soccer league, and is trying to change the world by teaching people a new approach to management.

Every conversation I have with him expands my mind in a lot of good ways.

But you should also hang with people who are younger than you as well--every age has something to teach us.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Ella_Mentry's_Back_is_Kool said...

definitely agreeing with you there..

when i first came to this country, my most trusted and understanding friend was a nearing 80 years old woman, Episcopalian, and extremely open-minded.

i am still amazed by her zest for life. even though she is pushing 90, she continues to work every day, helping african refugees adjust to american life.

believe it or not, she was also the first person i came out to and a very rare stable and calming presence in my adolescence life.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

My problem, historically, has been that I relate better to those much older than myself than others in my own age bracket. It's actually something I've worked to overcome, with varying degrees of success.

This is probably because adults tended to view my younger self as a precocious, charming child, as opposed to an annoying know-it-all. Contemplating the matter, I might bond better with my peers now because I am no longer so intellectually impressive. What a thought!

In any case, yes, those of a different generation tend to offer a different, and thus quite valuable, perspective

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. One time I nailed this old chick, like real old, maybe 45 or so and she did all sorts of crazy freaky shit to me that no college girls could ever dream up. It was awesome!

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Megan said...

Beautiful. You're a great writer Gabe.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Philip Dhingra said...

This is very good advice. I never had an explicit age discrimination in my relationships, but this post made me reflect a little about relationship bias.

It's a little tough because with older people there's just so much you can relate to. However, it's nothing a little creativity and open-mindedness can't mend.

6:50 AM  

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