Last week at PICNIC I had dinner with someone I have been working with for a year or so. Somehow the discussion drifted into age and aging and I was very surprised by the fact that someone I thought was exactly my age, was significantly younger. Someone I had thought shared the same story of struggling through their 20s, was not even halfway there.
Next to the few jokes made about the age issue, for a moment it threw me off rails. To be exact, my own surprised reaction was more troubling than the age difference. What’s in an age?
I have often been in situations where I am the youngest person and I have found people addressing me in a highly condescending manner. I could list numerous examples where I have got upset by comments such as “oh, you will understand when you are my age’ or ‘you young people’. I just have zero tolerance towards using age difference as a lifeline out of a professional debate. But the dinner last week made me wonder whether I have now gone full circle and started addressing people in a manner that I would not tolerate for a second. Why on earth would it change my approach that there is seven years between me and a colleague?
Due to my work I use the phrase young people several times a day. I use it in discussions, advocacy work, articles and funding applications. But I sincerely hope that last week, I catched myself early enough. I do not want to be that person who looks down on young people with that irritating amusement on their face. I really wish I can be a person who listens without prejudice, who makes judgements based on arguments and who is willing to explain their position to both young and old.
But I also want to recognize that I am getting older. I acknowledge that there are things that just go beyond my taste, my judgement and my understanding. But I wish I can live up to Robert Kennedy’s notion of qualities of youth: "not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease."
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