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Reform Magazine | December 15, 2017

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Editorial: From age to age

steve_tomkinsThe result of the Scottish independence referendum was quite something, wasn’t it? I assume I can safely say that, and that it has had a profound effect on the life of a nation, and on the lives and hopes of individuals. Unfortunately, Reform went go to press 12 hours before the polls open, so I know rather less about it than you do, making it even easier than usual for me to say something that sounds wise to me but completely boneheaded to you.

There is a similar problem saying anything intelligent about ageing. The fact that there are reflections on that theme in this issue tempts me to share my own ideas on the subject, but the thought that people will read this who already know the results better than I do gives me pause.

The other day I heard a stranger saying that reaching her 22nd birthday was a miserable milestone. Her milestone being one year less than half my last one, I briefly considered giving her a smack, but resisted, because these kids have to learn for themselves. As I tell you this story I realise that you, dear reader, may be twice my own age, and, provoked by my self-pitying self-righteousness, are now probably composing a handwritten smack for me already. What would a mere 46-year-old know about the exasperation of younger generations? And yet, if older people are in a better position to reflect intelligently on ageing, the younger ones also need to reflect intelligently on it.

One of the tremendous privileges of my stage of life – one which I take far too much for granted – is that I have children and parents alive at the same time. I enjoy talking to them all, but probably don’t listen so well. I tend to assume that the younger generation can’t match my accumulated wisdom, while the older generation have let slip whatever they once accumulated. In other words, that the human brain reaches the peak of its usefulness at around 46.

A more likely theory, it now occurs to me, is that the most useful human brain is one which is able to draw on the resources of other brains, as well as being a resource for them in turn. My younger and older relatives just don’t think like me, and when I manage to get past how obviously wrong that makes them, I find they give me the astounding gift of suddenly seeing things that little bit differently.

I wonder if our society is any better at listening across that age gap than I am. I hope so – though the range of faces and voices that my newspapers, magazines and TV are filled with suggests otherwise. I think Reform may do better than most, though if you disagree, let us know. We’re listening.

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This article was published in the October 2014 edition of  Reform.

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