“Young People Are Just Smarter” (and Healthier, and Faster, and More Athletic). UM, More Lies We’re Told About Aging…
“Young people are just smarter.” This from Mark Zuckerberg back in 2007, AGES ago. He was 24 at the time.
This is the same Mark Zuckerberg who sold us all down the river on Facebook (Cambridge Analytica, among others), allowed Russians and others to manipulate his social media platform, and who vehemently denied that Facebook was a news outlet.
Man, that’s one stupid, stupid kid. Rookie mistakes that cost every single one of us Facebook users a great deal. It is still costing us, as does his hubris. He has no business running that platform without someone a shitload wiser on board calling him on his naive, uninformed assumptions. This is what happens when we worship the young. But hey, that’s just me. You could make a very legitimate argument that there are plenty of evil old geezers that are doing us all terrible harm. It seems that stupidity and greed don’t have an age limit either younger or older. However, to say that young folks are inherently smarter?
I wonder how smart Zuckerberg felt when he was being publicly paddled in Congress just recently? I suspect his arrogance was still solidly in place. At least until he enjoys a massive fall from grace.
There’s no question this kid is brilliant in some areas. But in that critical piece called common sense, nope. Most of us have hardly a whit of that in our twenties (okay, okay, plenty of folks in their sixties don’t either, but I digress). Nature made us that way. As we accumulate years, the idea, at least in theory, is that we also accumulate wisdom and a modicum of smarts.
Nature made us dumb enough so that if we swallow a double handful of Tide pods (it used to be marbles, but we’ve evolved) or decide to leap off a four- story building because a video game or movie shows Batman doing it, we will remove ourselves from the gene pool. Pity a few in the Administration slipped through that particular sieve in order to shiv the rest of us.
About two years ago on the cover of Elle Magazine, to which I used to subscribe (until that issue, as it were) they featured a 17-year-old twit who claimed in that immensely smug self-satisfaction of extreme youth, “You’re the MOST interesting at 17.”
Oh gag me with a spoon.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg was featured in the same issue. Rather than read the vapid bullshit of an immensely spoiled child, I was vastly more interested in an accomplished, venerable woman. Is Ginsberg gorgeous?
But her brains are. And that’s the whole point. Whether or not you agree with her POV, she’s brilliant. As are a great many others who make it to an advanced age, have road rash, read expansively and think.
She also works out regularly, as did my long time mentor Meg Hansson, who died several years ago at 93. Like Ginsberg, Hansson was tiny, brilliant, engaging, funny, and fully engaged until the day she died. Who would I rather have lunch with — a self-absorbed, arrogant 17-year old or Hansson or Ginsberg?
Here’s the piece: there are, of course, savants who slip out of the womb prepackaged as simply extraordinary. However most of us don’t have the common sense not to step in a pile of dog shit in the backyard (assuming we have one these days) until we’ve gotten a bit older. At each successive decade, depending on how we choose to live our lives that is, we have the opportunity to accumulate wisdom and gravitas. Not everyone by any measure. People like my father and brother who became alcohol and/or drug addicts very young stop developing emotionally the day they pop the first pill. They keep aging, but the emotional muscle that has the potential to acquire, use and develop wisdom atrophies.
This is true with our physical selves as well. Peyton Manning was 39 when he won Super Bowl 50. Here is a pretty telling list. Tom Brady is no spring chicken, when you consider that most NFL athletes are in their early twenties. The Williams Sisters (36 and 38) are just this weekend playing in the US Open. A sport for teenagers? Yah. Go play Serena. See how that works out for ya. Brady will slip a helmet on his 41-year old noggin this season. Increasingly, how we manage our health and our bodies as we age can translate into extraordinary performance, simply because we have begun to understand our limitations and how to work around them. This is hardly limited to top athletes.
This is what I mean.
When I hiked Kilimanjaro at 60 five years ago this November, the folks who came down the mountain on stretchers were young men in their twenties. Geezers understand Pole pole, Swahili for Slow, slow. We understand balance and what we need to conserve for the longer haul. Like many women, at 65 I am just now hitting my stride, and while there isn’t as much spring to it as there was in my teens and twenties, I can go far, far longer. I’ve learned how to to do it for the distance, the chances that are just too stupid to take, and what my body can and can’t do. This doesn’t come without dedicated work, in the same way that our intellects don’t develop without challenges, daily reading and a willingness to let go of our precious POV.
In an article that came out today on Outside Online, writer Brad Stuhlberg quotes so-called “aging athletes” — many of whom are only in their forties, pardon me- who talk about the experience and the fundamental wisdom that come with repeated failures. Those of us who have survived into our sixties and beyond have a great deal to say about that. Not only do such life lessons provide the much-needed Universal two-by- four to the side of the head which mitigates the hell-bent-for-leather, we-rule-the-world of our teens and twenties, the simple fact of aging tempers a certain level of risk-taking.
Um. Well. For some of us it does. As I’ve aged I’ve taken a great many more risks. The difference in the skydiver I am today, for example, as opposed to the one back in my twenties, is that by now I’ve lost my main a few times. That taught me that I was a very cool cucumber in what could have been a deadly situation had I panicked. It also taught me to trust that I knew what to do in that kind of do-it-or-die emergency. That lesson has spilled over into umpteen other situations I’ve faced.
For those young enough to have never had such experiences, be it on a mountaintop or in a marathon, failure doesn’t feel like an immediate teaching experience. That’s precisely what sets them up for fiascoes (which is of course the whole point), and why they can rush headlong into extremity expecting to come out unscathed. You don’t learn caution when all you do is succeed. You never learn to watch for rattlers on a Rocky Mountain trail until you feel the tap of their teeth on your boots. Having had two stupendous and simply spectacular falls off horses in 2017 that took me out for nearly an entire year, I invested in one of those superb riding vests that will help save my spine should that happen again. Look, if a horse bites my ear off, the vest won’t help. Besides. I still have my internal organs and it will make buying earrings a lot cheaper.
Age teaches, if we cooperate with it, and if we embrace our experiences (good bad ugly and downright awful) with glee. As our bodies age, and like it or not by god they WILL, what they teach us is whole other level of mastery. And that is where it’s a gift to be old. Um, old(er).
As Stuhlberg points out, depending on the sport (such as triathalons and mountaineering) certain activities improve with age and experience. We can get a great deal wiser as we study, push, injure, correct, and educate ourselves on our mistakes, our skill sets, and learn to see what may not have been obvious to us in our teens and twenties. Age and experience teach us how to look, how to listen, and how to tell the very critical difference between ow, that’s hard work, and OW THAT’S AN INJURY NOW STOP.
Two days ago I was hiking 3600 stairs with a 20-lb pack in preparation for Mt. Kenya this November. My thighs burned, in that way that they always did during road bike wind sprints down the Nepean Highway in Melbourne, Australia, light to light. Back then I was in my early thirties. For some, that’s already tapping on the outside edge of “old-dom.” When I feel that, I know that I am building muscle. That’s not fatigue. That’s the way my body communicates that it’s getting a workout, other than my gasping for air and plotting my drive home as close to a donut shop as possible.
From Stuhlberg’s piece, and this is my favorite: It’s quite common for runners and triathletes to go up in distance as they age. This makes sense. A marathon requires a lot more wisdom than a 5K and an Ironman requires a lot more wisdom than a sprint triathlon. A 2013 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the median age for a first-time ultra runner is 37 and the median age of all ultramarathon finishers is 43 — seven years older than the median age of all marathon finishers in the same year.
Especially early in the morning as I increase my training regimen, I keep running into more and more folks who, like me, are stepping into their fullest strides as their hair gets as snowy as the mountains we expect to climb. That hair that remains, that is. Tim and Katherine, up until they left for Europe, trained the stairs just like I did. Like clockwork. They are in the Swiss Alps hiking 103 miles, doing 33,000 feet of altitude gain over several weeks. These two were in their seventies. Didn’t look even close to fifty until you came much closer. This is what I mean.
Of course there’s only one problem. We may increase our performance in many ways as we get older. The only real issue I have is that I’m old enough to regularly forget where I put the damned running shoes, and I can barely see where I’m going in the first place. I’m more likely to die by early morning delivery truck than I am leaping out of an airplane.
Either way, I’m still going to be moving pretty damned fast.