Ed Bockelman

The asymmetry of age

Yesterday I got to thinking about how young adults view older adults and vice versa.

Young people often feel that anyone older than 30 is out of touch, and in some ways that's true. A lot of us, including myself, are out of touch with what David Perell describes as "the never-ending now."  He is referring to people who perpetually scroll through social media and news feeds to stay current, but who do not study history or understand their place in it.  

To the best of my knowledge, David is 27 years old, but he has insight far beyond his years.

Whether an individual is 21 or 81 I consider them adults.  Since I am in the middle, adults just seem like adults to me. I hope to be wiser in 30 years, so I tend to look at older adults as a possible source of wisdom, but I also recognize that they have their own strengths and quirks.

It's not often that I consider how young someone is compared to me, but I'm often stunned when I realize things I assume everyone knew happened long before the person was born.

Stanislaw Pstrokonski is also a young person, not much older than Perell.  I am continually amazed by his insights as I listen to his podcast Education Bookcast.  When he reviews The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, he discusses how young adults tend to have a blind spot between their 20s and old age when thinking about their future.  

I remember doing this myself.  In my twenties, I aspired to become like certain people ten years older than me.  However, it was harder to relate to someone much older.  

A paradox

The paradox of this situation is that young people often believe older people are out of touch but at the same time do not think they have anything to teach older people. According to the study cited here, this viewpoint is common.

It is generally assumed that older people are the ones who offer knowledge and advice to younger people - and not the other way around - but the above study shows that young people have a surprising amount of knowledge to share.  The examples of Perell and Pstrokonski illustrate this point.  Their wisdom constantly amazes me.

In summary, I believe many twenty-somethings think adults my age are out of touch with the times but knowledgeable about everything else.  In contrast, I tend to consider that all adults have something they can teach me. However, sometimes it surprises me to be reminded of a fact that they do not know.  Yesterday, when this thought came into my head, I named it the asymmetry of age.  I'm sure there's a better phrase out there.

My advice

To younger adults:  Maybe the now you know so much about isn't as important as what older people can teach you about the big picture.  Also, don't underestimate the value of your knowledge.  Additionally, think of your life as progressing through the decades.  There is no smooth transition from your 30s to 70s.  Try to do something now that will prepare you for each of those decades.

To those who are older, don't underestimate how much you can learn from young people.  But try not to act surprised when they haven't heard of someone or something you know well.