Why Don’t the Young Learn from the Old?
One of the essential tragedies of the human condition is that each generation must relearn so much about how to be human. Sure, life is too complicated for each generation to teach the next one about all the details we face, and many things change from generation to generation. But you might think each generation could at least make clear to the next the big timeless insights and strategies of life. You know, how to manage a career, when to leave town, how to be a good lover, friend, parent, spouse, employee, boss, etc. or what to watch out for when choosing such relations.
We do spend a lot of time teaching our young skills like how to dress and hunt and drive and write. And adults do sometimes pontificate on the big strategies of life. But such sermons are mostly ignored, and honestly they aren’t often phrased very practically. So the young seem to have to relearn how to manage a career, be a good lover and friend, etc. Many learn the facts of life the hard way, and later wish they had understood such things sooner. Why?
It seems to me that a big part of the story is that a naive innocence is attractive in many ways to people forming relationships. Young people who act like they know a lot about the ways of the world are suspected, perhaps correctly, of being more self-centered and likely to defect when it is to their advantage. And the sermons of the old often seem more devoted to reaffirming their ideals than to transferring practical advice.
It seems that the faith that most young folks have in their own idealism and devotion to their principles and associates is attractive to others who are choosing mates, friends, and employees. But I’m still not very clear on the details of this arrangement, and I would love to understand it better.
Added: In today’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen defends Monica Lewinsky,
She took a bad situation and made something good of it. That … makes her … once young — and now older and incomparably wiser. An approximation of this befalls us all, but before we got to become wise and prudent in all things we were probably irresponsible, outrageous and wild — in other words, young. … Yet she did what so many women at that age would do. She seduced (or so she thought) an older man. She fantasized that he would leave his wife for her.
This seems to me a good example of how nature makes us "naive" and "irresponsible" in our youth because it is to our advantage to be this way.