Do you know any cranky, old people? Perhaps intimately? Maybe you’re related to one? Or work with one? Maybe, heaven forbid, you are one.
Given the overall aging demographic and proliferation of baby boomers, it’s not surprising if you can name some. They are in our churches, our volunteer organizations, and our family get-togethers. They may be running farms or businesses. They may still be making huge contributions to society.
The stereotypical image of a little old lady or grumpy old man is fodder for comedians, cartoonists, actors and authors. You know what I mean. They have a knack for unabashed outspokenness, withering criticism, inexplicable pre-conceived notions, unsolicited advice, and unfortunately, often bigotry and prejudice. Think about Sophia from Golden Girls in her cardigan, over-sized glasses, clutching her handbag. Think about all the zingers she hurled at daughter Dorothy, Blanche and Rose. The storyline blamed a stroke on Ma’s sharp tongue and lack of judgment.
Turns out there just might be something to it. I always thought the increasing candidness and tell-it-like-it-is is a by-product of aging. With age comes the realization that the days of pussyfooting around the obvious truth are over. Adios to political correctness. They have the understanding that there are fewer days ahead of them than there are behind them. The days of playing games and staying silent are over. I see it as freeing and look forward to the day I can get away with it myself. Though of course, my words would be wise and nurturing not mean and hurtful. Right!
New research out of Australia seems to indicate the area of brain function that governs the appropriateness of personal questions or conversation topics diminishes with age. Researcher von Hippel (University of New South Wales, 2005) tested two groups of people. One group of test subjects was 18 to 25 years old, while the other was 65 to 93. Each group was asked whether they would discuss personal questions with friends in a public place. Questions included talking about hemorrhoids, personal family problems and, worst of all, weight gain.
“The older we get, the less our brain is able to identify times and places where personal questions are out of place,” said von Hippel in a CanWest News Service story (Spear, 2005). Young people are also more likely to forgive these sorts of questions than older people, who are quick to take offence.
So, what does it all mean to you and me? Does this awareness that it’s a brain function not mean spiritedness make it easier to accept? Does the prospect of the next family gathering still strike fear into your heart? Can you think of strategies to defuse unpleasant situations? Can you explain this to your children who may be confused and dismayed by the obvious change in behaviour from their elders? Can we all watch for warning signs in our own behaviour? My eyes are opened, from where I sit.
Spear, T. (2005, September 12). Grampa not so much grumpy as uninhibited by age, study finds. Windsor Star. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/windsor/windsorstar/news/story.html?id=7759ff90-02f5-4ec5-8c30-3a343c1ff049
University of New South Wales (2005, September 12). Aged aren’t rude: Just uninhibited. News Release. Retrieved from http://www.science.unsw.edu.au/homepage.html