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The Echo Chamber of Ageism

I don’t know what to write about. I have so many thoughts and ideas spinning around in my mind today that all seem interconnected, like strands of a spiderweb, but to make them coherent would mean having to explain each individual strand in detail. Its sort of like the opposite of writer’s block, writes vomit? Haha. That’s about right. If I were to spill everything out on the page that’s going through my brain right now, it would just be a partially digested mess that made no sense.

The Artist's Way 25th Anniversary Edition (audiobook)

 

I wrote recently about a psychedelic experience I had and how it helped bring a lot of things into focus for me. Since then, I’ve been processing and sorting out a lot of the insights I had from the experience. That’s one thing about that sort of experience, the things you learn during them are intuitive, they are feelings, things you understand on a visceral level, but putting them into words and explaining them can take a whole lot of work. That’s what’s spinning through my brain today.

Years ago I read a book called the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameronwhich is full of exercise designed to help creative types tap into their creativity with confidence. One of the exercises is called, Morning Pages. The idea is simple, first thing in the morning, you write at least 3 pages of anything – stream of consciousness, journaling, the next chapter of your book, whatever. At first, its harder than it sounds. I spent a week or so filling pages with “I don’t know what to write. This is stupid. Why am I doing this?” and so on. Three pages of that sort of thing just repeating for days. Then one day other words began to come to me.

I’ve used that exercise many times since, including today. I still don’t know where this post is going, but I’m writing! It works!

What Sparked Today’s Mental Stew?

The best I can figure, this swirling brain was kicked off by two things. First, the long and interesting conversation I had last night with a new lover, and second a post I read this morning about what one author thinks it means when an people of significantly different ages date. It was a very judgmental post that lacked a lot of nuances, so I’m not going to link it.

(The author thought 15 years difference was ok, because he’d done it, but not 30 years difference. However, he also didn’t specify whether it was ok for an 18 year old to date a 33 year old, but gross for a 70 year old to date a 40 year old. So I don’t feel he really though the whole thing through)

I’ll admit, I felt a bit attacked by it, as my new lover is a good deal younger than me. But given our conversations, and the fact she initiated our relationship by asking me out, I feel the writer of the article was lacking an understanding of why some people choose to date older people. Of course, the obvious reason is money, everyone knowns the cliché of the sugar daddy, and the cougar, which are typically viewed as either transactional relationships or predatory. But I can tell you from personal experience, that its not uncommon for people in their 20’s to express an interest in being in relationships with older adults. Perhaps more common for women to seek older men, but I’ve seen both genders do it, and that includes homosexual relationships, too.

He wasn’t wrong about a few things though. It is a massive ego boost for an attractive and intelligent, younger woman to want to spend time with me. And the sex is usually amazing. We also are not on the same level in many ways, she just hasn’t had the experiences I’ve had, she literally can’t understand some things I’ve been through, like parenthood, home ownership, losing a business, etc.

But I also think back to when I was 18 and asked out a woman much older than me. I learned an enormous amount from that relationship that I would not have learned by dating girls my age. I learned to manage my life, make a budget, schedule my time, set boundaries, to communicate openly about my needs and expectations.

Inversely, when I have taught similar things to younger women I’ve dated. And since I’m still friends with some of them, I have gotten feed back, and they all tell me that things they learned from our relationship have served them well in their lives after.

Echo Chamber

We live in a time where algorithms on social media and search engines narrow what we see to things we already like. We are exposed less and less to new ideas and experiences unless we make a conscious effort to seek them out. In a way, I feel the idea of confining who you date or even just hang out with, to an “appropriate” age range has much the same result, your own life becomes an echo chamber.

Just as I learned a lot from dating an older women when I was younger, I learned a lot from dating a woman my own age who had just left a 19 years monogamous marriage. I have never been married, never want to be. I am a relationship anarchists. So learning about her experiences taught me things I will never know personally. At the same time, dating me showed her a way of living and loving she had never had before, giving her new ideas and choices she never knew existed. Both allowed each of us to make better informed choices about the lives we wanted to live when we decided to end that romance (we’re still friends).

I’m believe in never sleeping with anyone who I don’t enjoy spending time with outside the bedroom (or where ever it is we get it on). And if you can’t enjoy spending time with people who have different experiences, beliefs, views and ideas from you, then you end up in your own self-built echo chamber. That includes people of different ages, races, genders, faiths, music, movies and artistic tastes.

Student or Master

I am a teacher at heart, that is my role in life, regardless of my profession or relationship with anyone. A good teacher learns from their students, and I am always learning new things from everyone around me.

A good teacher also teaches how, rather than what to think or do. First one learns a new skill, taught by a teacher or mentor, then one goes out into the world and applies it, often in ways the teacher never predicted, because our lives are all unique. From that, we learn lessons our teach may not have learned, and thus we have something to teach them. The role of teacher and master are not reserved only to someone who is older or has more experience, a true master is always a student and always open to learned from anyone who has something to share.

In one area I may be the master, but in another I will always be the student, in any relationship – be it romantic, platonic, personal or professional. This duality is only increased by the differences – any differences – between the two people involved.  If you confine yourself to people who are mostly like yourself, you miss chances to grow and learn, and trap yourself in yet another echo chamber.

This is why I feel its important make an effort to include a diverse mix of people in your life.

Trail Mix

As I look at the people in my life, my friends, lovers, clients, co-workers, random strangers I have conversations with, I notice only one commonality – openness to difference. My social interactions are like a bag of trail mix.

(That’s a funny analogy for me, since I always pick the raisins out of trial mix, I hate raisins. But I guess there are people I exclude form my life, like Nazi’s and bigots, so they’re the raisins.)

I think that’s what sparked today’s mental stew, the dichotomy between my own life and relationships and the perceptions of the post I read. I know it wasn’t personal, it was one man’s view, based on his own experiences. But until I put it into words, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me, and now I know.

Do we chastise adults for playing with kids? Of course not, that’s only natural. That’s how kids learn, that’s how we bound and form loving relationships in families and communities.

Do we tisk-tisk young adults for hanging out with the elderly? No, we see them as kind and loving. We recognize the wisdom the elderly can give us. In return they feel loved and valued, which we all need no matter our age.

Cliques

Too often we segregate ourselves in to groups that are comfortable. Behind the bar, I regularly see large groups of people coming out to party together, and I can always tell who’s in which group. They dress alike, have similar hair styles, mannerisms, speech patterns – they are a clique. In cliques, its very common to get pushback whenever you try to do or say anything outside the accepted norm of the clique. Cliques are echo chambers.

They are self-reinforcing little worlds that can limit who influences you, right down to who you marry. They can become dangerously narrow in their thoughts and opinions if allowed to go on too long.

Unlike what is often portrayed in high school movies, cliques aren’t usually controlled by one individual. Its the primal fear of rejection that silently holds people back from expressing themselves, often in even the smallest ways.

The thing about cliques, as I’ve observed them, is they generally are made up of a narrow age range of people, within a few years of each other. Age is just another way cliques close people off to wider experiences and views.

VCR Clocks

I belong to a unique generation. Mine, Gen X, is the only generation who knows how to program a clock on a VCR. This may seem like a strange thing, but keep reading.

Programing a VCR required understanding how to manipulate several buttons to make them serve functions different than their labels. You could read the instructions, of course, but each model of VCR was different. But if you’re Gen X, you grew up with digital watches and other such devices and learned early on to intuitively figure out how to program them with a little trial and error.

Our parents grew up in with analog, so as adults, they had a hard time internalizing the “rules” of early digital device programming. Our children, and every generation since, has had the benefit of more advanced computer technology with screens you can read, that give you instructions and choices for each button. So they’ve never had to learn the process of programing early digital devices like VCRs.

This illustrates a simple truth about the world we live in – we can learn things from people younger than us. We all accept we can learn from our elders, that’s been the natural order of things since the beginning of time. But as technology advances, its children who learn and adapt to it more quickly, they are sponges that absorb everything around them without much effort.

So when you choose to limit your social interactions only to a small age group, you cut yourself off not only from the wisdom of elders, but also from the knowledge of those younger than you.

As the rate of technological advancement accelerates, its is becoming more and more important to widen your social groups. None of us can be an expert in all things, so we need a variety of people in our lives to learn from and assist us. In a way, we are returning back to how human communities were meant to be. More and more, it will be those younger than us who can teach us, as they will understand new technology we must learn to function in the advancing world.

100 – 150

Ancient human tribes consisted of between 100 and 150 people, a mix of all ages, from new born to the elderly. Today, our brains can only remember significant details about the lives of that many people.

Ask yourself, of the 100 closest people in your life – your family, your co-workers, your friends – how diverse is the age range? I expect, like most people, aside from a few outliers like the kids and your grand parents in your extended family, you’ll find most of your tribe falls within a narrow age range. That is not how nature intended us to live.

We are meant to know and love people of all ages. Our lives are meant to be filled with meaningful interactions with people along the entire spectrum of life, from birth to death. Not to just know them in passing, but to spend time with them, experience things with them, share and learn with them, play with them, cry with them. That is what life is meant to be, and your life will be richer and more fulfilling if you make the effort to make it so.

 


It seems I’ve managed to somewhat string together the spider web of thoughts I began with in to something I hope makes sense. What are your thoughts on age and how society views the interactions between people of diverse ages? Leave a comment, lets discuss it!

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2 thoughts on “The Echo Chamber of Ageism”

  1. Hi Charles,
    I like the message you have here whereby we need all kinds of people and age groups in our lives. I once got stuck on a technical problem and went to Youtube to get help. I did from a 10 year old child. I love technology because it pulls us all together no matter what ages we are.
    -Donna

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