Advantages of Getting Older

I got some reading glasses today.

However, they’re not actually for reading. I can do that fine except with paperback Hebrew dictionaries, whose print is almost microscopic. I gave up on those a long time ago, and got a magnifying glass for them.

The reading glasses are for a tablet computer whose small screen gives me eyestrain. Apart from that problem, it’s a nice little gadget. Hence, the reading glasses. I’ve got another pair for distance.

But the milestone made me realize that getting older has advantages.

I won’t kid you: it’s not all good. Lately I’ve had tennis elbow, and there’s not much to do except ice it. The gym seems to tire me out more than it used to. As for those damn kids and their awful music, I just want them to get off my lawn!

But I’m an optimistic person, so I try to look at the bright side of things. Here are some advantages of getting older:

  • You’ve been wrong often enough that you’re skeptical.

You want to see evidence before you’ll believe outlandish claims. The exception is politics, where unless you’re careful, you’ll be as gullible as everyone else.

  • You’ve been wrong often enough that you’re more forgiving of others who get things wrong.

If someone as rational as you could make ludicrous mistakes, then you’ve got to give other people a break, too.

  • You remember how stupid and ignorant you were when you were younger.

You understand why a lot of Millennials are the same way. You grew out of it. You hope that they will, too.

  • You remember how stupid and ignorant older people seemed when you were younger.

You understand why a lot of Millennials see you that way now. As the American novelist Mark Twain said: “When I was 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have him around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

  • You realize that humanity is a giant, roaring furnace of emotion topped by a tiny, flickering candle of intelligence.

People who scream and jabber usually aren’t trying to convince you of anything. They’re just venting their anger about Heaven knows what. They direct the anger at whoever’s handy. To them, that person or group symbolizes all the unhappiness in their own lives. You’ve got to calm them down before you can reason with them.

Seriously, it’s a miracle that the human race has survived this long. But it has. Either God loves us, or we have incredible luck, or we have hidden virtues.

In any case, it’s cause for optimism. Even if you need glasses to read it.

Check out my new book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Foreword Reviews called it “intriguing and vital to living.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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3 Responses to Advantages of Getting Older

  1. Jim Grey says:

    I’m just now coming to realize your last point, even about myself.


    • N.S. Palmer says:

      As I’ve said before, you hide the roaring furnace very well. You’re one of the most level-headed people I know. But to use a flame-retardant metaphor, “still waters run deep.” 🙂


      • Jim Grey says:

        I’m a deeply emotional man. Earlier in my life I learned that showing just how emotional I am pushes people away, so I’ve learned to manage them and show a calmer exterior.


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