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Archive for February 28th, 2009

When you hit middle age, how you face change can become a dilemma. Either you decide to accept every change that comes along in an effort to feel that you are still part of the mainstream in our youth-oriented culture, or else you reject every change as something dangerous that should be denigrated at every turn. Only a few seem to find an alternative to these reactions.

The reasons for this dilemma are not hard to see. As most people age, they start to associate change with decay and, ultimately, with death. It becomes something to deny, either by taking on the mannerisms of someone half your age, or by denouncing it.

The trouble is, neither of the usual two reactions is very satisfying. Nothing is more undignified or embarrassing as a middle-aged person trying to pretend that they are young. A fifty year old woman who tries to dress as a teenager risks being ridiculous, because they don’t have the body of a teenager. The same is true of a fifty year old man who tries to keep up physically with a twenty year old.

Similarly, if either tries to keep up to date on the latest music or Internet fad, they risk acting like an over-aged puppy pathetically trying to please. The fact is, youth culture is not something you are expected to understand or belong to when you’re middle-aged – one of the whole purposes of youth culture is establish an identity that’s different from that of the middle-aged.

By contrast, by rejecting the culture of your generation, you risk losing your own roots for the shallowness of a wannabe who can never belong. You might as well apply to a club whose entire purpose is to blacklist you.

The trouble is, going to the opposite extreme and denying the value of everything new is no better. By doing so, you only increase the impression that you are out of touch (which most people younger than you tend to believe anyway).

Just as importantly, you risk missing new things that you might otherwise appreciate. All that lies behind the elderly curmudgeon is a constant, unending complaint that the world has changed since you first became an adult, and you don’t like it. That is a petty and small-minded attitude for anyone around you to endure; you can see it almost any day in The Globe and Mail, which on subjects such as Facebook or file-sharing often gives the impression of being written by embittered seventy-five year olds for seventy-five year olds.

All the same, pursuit or rejection are by far the most common ways that the middle-aged respond to their growing perception of the unavoidability of change. It takes tremendous sense of structure to resist either response and simply have faith in your own taste, accepting the changes that suit your taste and rejecting those that do no, and fostering a tolerance for other people’s preferences. Yet, considering that the alternative is either to be ridiculous or unpleasant, it seems the only acceptable alternative.

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