Learning From Them: Life Reports From The Over-70’s

January 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

In October last year, New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks asked readers over the age of 70 to write in with a life report – what had they learned, what they wish they had done differently, what advice they had for young people. He wrote,

Young people are educated in many ways, but they are given relatively little help in understanding how a life develops, how careers and families evolve, what are the common mistakes and the common blessings of modern adulthood. These essays will help them benefit from your experience.

The reports make for fascinating and emotive reading. David identifies a couple of patterns in this follow-up piece, which are:

  • Divide your life into chapters
  • Beware rumination
  • You can’t control other people
  • Lean toward risk
  • Measure people by their growth rate, not by their talents
  • Be aware of the generational bias
  • Work within institutions or crafts, not outside them
  • People get better at the art of living

It made me think of this beautiful open letter from Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, Naomi Klein and many other older environmentalists as they called for volunteers to step-up and risk arrest in the successful No Keystone XL campaign last year. They wrote,

And one more thing: we don’t want college kids to be the only cannon fodder in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change–10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.  Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere (and whose careers won’t be as damaged by an arrest record) to step up too. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders.

h/t Ben Margetts

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