It must suck to be old, or at least older, in the age of the Millennial. To be constantly made aware of how unhip, how slow, how agonizing, how irritating you are for not “getting it”—which, in a culture that fetishizes and worships at the stiletto-shod feet of youth, can mean anything from finding yourself lost in the ever-shifting information superhighway (“God, Dad, how can you not understand Facebook?”), to wearing the wrong (read: age-inappropriate) thing (“You look like a cougar in that dress.”).
In the Age of the Millennial, even Madonna, who has previously never had a problem reinventing herself, is now seen through the acerbic, derisive lens of the young, as the uncool interloper trying so hard to breach the ranks of the It Squad, as in, ”I can’t believe she kissed Britney Spears/Drake/making a video with Beyonce. She’s Lola Madonna, FGS.” “What, P57,000 for her?” “She’d be so lucky to do a collab with Taylor Swift.”
Our favorite, by the way is: “Paul McCartney should be thankful to Kanye West for making him popular.”
Some Millennials even obsess about staying Millennials, because when you’re a Millennial, you get a hall pass to act like one, or at least the idea of one, i.e. “It’s okay to be lost; it’s okay to want to explore; it’s okay to be a bit irresponsible, take your time.” Adulting—a new slang coined by, well, Millennials, often seems like it’s too much for today’s young adult to bear.
There’s a whole slew of examples of how youthcentric we’ve become that’s unique to the Millennial generation: Forbes’ 30 Under 30 List; 25-year-old actresses considered “over the hill” both at home and in Hollywood; 14-year-old supermodels walking the runways of celebrated designers; Young Adult fiction taking over New York Times’ lists, slots previously occupied, at least in the ‘90s, by literary heavyweights.
There is no escaping the truth: Youth is relevance. Youth is the new currency. Youth is the aspiration. Where does that leave an aging generation?
When we are constantly being reminded by how old we are, age stops being just a number; it becomes something central to our identity. The young have stopped going to the old for advice, for stories, for memories. We trade information for wisdom. Why sit down for hours with your grandmother who keeps repeating herself, when you can look up the info you need on Google? Cross-generational dialogues happen less and less. We valorize the opinions of the young and deride those of the old. “You don’t get it,” the young say. “Times, they’ve changed.” Tanders. Tandercats. Mashonda: they snigger behind the backs of the unsuspecting.
So where’s the harm in this careless contempt?
Our obsession with youth perpetuates self-harm.
American forefathers have dusted their wigs to look older, wiser. Some cultures in the Philippines revere their elderly by giving them important positions in the community. Modern cultures revere the elderly by telling them they look young. And so, faced with these standards, the aging population fight tooth and nail to stop time on its tracks—effectively making the beauty business a billion dollar industry. And so it has come to pass that the next generation has unwittingly set standards for their future selves they will kill themselves trying to achieve.
Our obsession with youth makes Millennials the most stressed generation.
They made the findings of the American Psychological Association official early this year. The Millennial is the most stressed generation—ever. Among the reasons, of course, is the fact that not acknowledging age results in a concept called “time famine.” No thanks to lists like “40 under 40”, this generation is egged on to be CEOs by 30, millionaires by 35, world domination by 40. Millennials, in the utter disregard for their elders, look around them for signposts for success, instead of the guidance of someone who has trudged the path before. They try to cram everything into a short period, fizzling out like wet firework in the end.
Researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research studied the ages of Nobel Prize-winning scientists and inventors, and found that many had their biggest scientific breakthroughs between the ages of 36 and 41. Olga Khazan of The Atlantic says genius doesn’t decline with age—Robert Frost wrote over 40 percent of his best poems after the age of 50. F. Sionil Jose was published in his 30s. Life is a marathon, not a sprint—wisdom you can only understand when you look to your elders.
Our obsession with youth overlooks the advantages and cultural ideal of old age.
As opposed to the general sentiment that youth is where it’s at, the truth is—backed by studies—that life isn’t a downward trend. It isn’t a long, slow decline. A 75-year-old Harvard grant study shows that happiness in later life has very little to do with what one has achieved in his youth. The magazine The Economist also published an article on happiness in old age, and realized that while happiness decreases in middle age, it spikes up again as one nears “old” age.
This Grandparents’ Day, we take a pause to recognize the wisdom and the beauty of age , to do away with the anxiety that nags us about the future, and to replace it with respect for history, time, and yes, the battle scars of time—wrinkles.
After all, we shouldn’t forget that it does take a lifetime to live a life.
This article was first published in the September 2015 issue of the Philippine Panorama.