Don’t be mistaken!

“For men of that sort are so greedy after excitement that they far more readily forgive a commander who loses a battle than a commander who declines one. The politicians, who delivered their oracles from the thickest cloud of tobacco smoke at Garroway’s, confidently asked, without knowing any thing, either of war in general, or of Irish war in particular, why Schomberg did not fight. They could not venture to say that he did not understand his calling. No doubt he had been an excellent officer: but he was very old. He seemed to bear his years well: but his faculties were not what they had been: his memory was failing; and it was well known that he sometimes forgot in the afternoon what he had done in the morning. It may be doubted whether there ever existed a human being whose mind was quite as firmly toned at eighty as at forty. But that Schomberg’s intellectual powers had been little impaired by years is sufficiently proved by his despatches, which are still extant, and which are models of official writing, terse, perspicuous, full of important facts and weighty reasons, compressed into the smallest possible number of words.”

Excerpt From
The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 3
Thomas Babington Macaulay

Barring a viewpoint clouded by invasive excess, there is marked support for the judgement of the elderly. The elderly have a singular feature from which they excel and that is experience. If an old man has for the majority of his life been alive to the events surrounding his existence it is a fair assumption that as a result he knows what he’s talking about. Very often his conclusions are abrupt and unglamorous; that is, his outlooks are not corrupted by taradiddle or what I prefer to characterize as faulty or deliberately fallacious reasoning. He instead gets right to the point – and as often correctly. The augustness of an elderly person is side-lined and tarnished by those whose minds are governed by entertainment or the mistaken belief that cavorting with those who speak nonsense is by perverse logic more fruitful. If the exercise were a circus, there is no question of the preference. Otherwise the choice is equally clear; namely, if you want more than a show, there is a good chance the elderly proponent offers gainful counsel.

By curious circumstance I have spent much of my life with people not only older than I but significantly so. Nor is it possible to dismiss these regular encounters as merely transitory or purely casual. Very often after these particular confabs I would return to my erstwhile and isolated preoccupation which was normally pursuit of either my private avocation or my preferred intellectual or expressive amplifications such as reading or playing the piano. My point is this: I didn’t exhaust my social time predominantly with people my own age. I very actively enjoyed my time with older people, sometimes the parents of my classmates. On those occasions however I hadn’t the perception that I was doing so for any particular purpose other than the fulfillment of what was agreeable.  I had for example regular visits at my law office from one gentleman (a retired businessman) aged 90 years or more; another, when ritually walking his dog, was a retired judge.  And to be clear, I never actively invited these gentlemen to call though I most certainly thanked them for doing so and encouraged them to call again which they did.  I flatter myself to think it wasn’t a mercenary relationship on either side of the construct.

Unquestionably what I derived from the elderly was social subtlety.  Why we presume to learn breeding without application or instruction I shall never know. Young boys profit by locker room bravado. It’s not productive of good table manners much less the elevated niceties of society. To this raw material the elderly add not only understated elegance but also precision. Naturally the learning was predominantly by osmosis (excluding of course the correct way to drink soup).

os·mo·sis| äzˈmōsəs | noun

1 Biology & Chemistry a process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one, thus equalizing the concentrations on each side of the membrane; and,

2 the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.

One naturally becomes aware of the infection. It is commonly an enterprise for which the reward is nearly old age itself.  Nonetheless the protraction of the intelligence isn’t cause for its underplaying. I mention this because, in line with a frequent jest about old people, I find young people a bit much! Teaching them a lesson is as much a challenge as settling what to tell them. Here I profit from my doctorate in Childhood Enlightenment. Okay, I haven’t a clue! But what I distinctly recall is the smooth insinuation of these delicate matters within my being.

It is the adjustment to that dip into the well of behaviour which poses the greatest urgency and talent. Time is running out faster than one has fully to calculate the precision and detail of many of these inferences. If you like I are in earnest about contributing something to society before evaporation (or, as my erstwhile physician languishing in Florida said today,  “going down the drain”) there is a volume of worth to be observed in these unfolding refinements.