The one and only thing we cannot change: our age.
A simple question at work inspires me to address the topic here of age in life, a sensitive subject, serious in its implications for being so singular a number.
Chronological time is the only aspect of our existence in permanence.
We can change our work, diet, hobbies, friends, pets, place, entertainment, clothes, citizenship, even family…
But not our age.
We can change our height, weight, sex, gender, hair length, nail color, eyes, skin tone, fitness, organs, our very genes…
But not when we were born.
We can change our education, religion, mind, character, knowledge, our very soul…
But not time, outdoer of all.
This post comes as a caution: sometimes, choice ignorance of inapplicable information is a boon. So from my personal, social, and professional anecdotal experience, let us talk about age.
This Makes for a Sensitive Subject
We cannot help it.
We draw correlations and suppositions over any information provided. From first glance to millionth minute shared, we as humans are information-gathering machines, pattern-matching fiends.
We cannot help it.
When age enters the conversation, it spawns judgements, biases, and deductions. And once we know, we cannot unknow (lest ignorance strike us).
We cannot help it.
Who would volunteer to be judged by peers? To flip the double-edged coin of bias for or against one’s favor? To be reduced to an impression? To unleash something uncontrollable, unchangeable, yet capable of controlling another’s reactions, changing another’s behavior?
But Why So Serious?
While we shouldn’t pass snap decisions upon each other, impressions matter. They matter so much, the US has to legislate against it (but only starting at age 40+).
Regardless, years alive means a lot in society. Tropes from the “vitality of youth” to “baby-faced” to “like wine, better with age” to “with age comes wisdom.” With youth comes forgiveness, with age comes expectation. Naivety at young ages, mentorship at old. Laws are made for those with fewer years by those with more. We celebrate birthdays as we ought and look to the stars to divine fortunes and falls in each other’s futures.
Age matters. It sends folks to war and unbars the door for a seat in the White House and dictates insurance rates. Our living anniversaries influence so, so much of consequence.
Speaking personally, discovery of age has carried severe results. A snapshot:
- Deferred professional advancement;
- Use to discount opinion and experience;
- Excluded participation in social activity;
- Negatively impacted health outcomes;
- Praise for acting above or having appearance below a given age group;
- Ending with others crying.
For most of all that, none of it needed age to matter.
It comes down to correlation vs. causation. Chronic disease is correlated by age, not caused by it (i.e. there is always a chance for sickness, increasing as time goes on). Wisdom is correlated by years of experience, but plenty of fools are geriatric as well as youthful. Cultural and societal and personal achievement are correlated with having more times at bat to accomplish, yet there is no cause to this other than hitting an arbitrary milestone of some “the big X-0” or gaining a new right through law.
To be flippant or carefree about age would seem to be either the choicest ignorance or a flaunting privilege. Like a threat, rashly uttering age is serious business.
The One and Only
Age is the one and only subject that through virtually all contexts I would advise against discussing. Unless there is a medical (e.g. with a doctor) or moral (e.g. minors, grooming, imbalance of authority) imposition, it takes a more creative person than I to imagine well-earned benefit for the disclosure.
All this said, I would beg you to share with me some oversight I have made here, some insight you have discovered in your years regarding your years where talking about them has been a benefit without caveat. The topic of time has been a sensitive one for me, one of the few. My principles and convictions and policies to not talk but in the strictest confidences make up a hill I will die one – one I would like removed. You would save me from the alertness I felt at work when a question of years came up.
So please! Do help. Share your own experiences from “coming of age,” however that has meant to you, to prove a sanity check. For now, take care through your end-of-May – cheers ~