When you’re young, you don’t expect to know more than most people, and most people have that same expectation. But then you graduate from high school, then University, and you suppose that your opinions matter. In fact, if you don’t suppose that then you’re really a washout, a nobody. In order to have and maintain status, you have to play the role of expert in at least some area.
Fast forward forty years. Now you’re retired and nobody expects you to do much more than take care of your own personal hygiene and not cause problems for other people who are still stuck trying to make a living. Suddenly it’s OK not to know what’s up, what’s hip or hot, where things are headed, who’s responsible for what. It’s OK just to sit on the sidelines and wave as the parade goes by.
Sure, some old guys still like to argue about sports and politics with anyone who will listen or argue back, but deep down they know that their opinions no longer carry weight. Nobody cares, nobody’s listening, in fact, nobody’s even sure they’re in the right. They’re just flapping their jaws to hear them flap.
I lived in Iowa for a long time, and when driving through small towns one would come across the cafe where all the retired people in town were having coffee. In many small towns, retirees make up the vast majority of the population. The men and women sit at separate tables, because their spouses certainly don’t care to hear their opinions on anything. When I would enter the room, all heads would turn to check me out, the stranger, just passing through. I was well aware that I would be the topic of speculation for a few minutes after I left, but that would quickly fade and broader topics would again take center stage, what’s wrong with young people today, which politician is the bigger crook, is allowing homosexuals to marry really causing this drought?
Some cultures award more status to the elderly than do others. Our culture puts of a premium of superficial attractiveness, and few of the elderly score highly in that arena. Where is the ten year-old who will ask Grandpa to tell that story again about an incident from his youth? Chances are Grandpa has never shared a story with this grandchildren, for the kids are all staring at a high-definition video display of a game, or mesmerized by their smartphones.
I have a friend about my age who lives here in Chiang Mai but who grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland. The family lived in a sod house, whitewashed on the outside, dirt floor on the inside. No electricity or running water. After dinner, the family would gather in front of the first and one of the children would ask “Give us a song mother.” People still live that way in the poorest parts of the world, but it’s hard to find much of that in the somewhat developed countries, like Thailand, where virtually everyone has a cellphone that demands their attention every waking hour.