On the Lighter Side

How not to be a Crotchety Old Person

While these suggestions can’t make you any younger, they can be a tremendously effective immunization against the dreaded and highly contagious old-and-crotchety persona. I’m tackling this one from an outsider’s perspective (the etic view, for my anthropologist friends). And yes, I am aware that I, too, will be “old” someday, so this list is for my own personal future reference as much as anything.

1.  Don’t complain about getting old. Discuss your aches and pains with your doctor, and your bingo group if you must. Resist disclosing details of a highly personal and sensitive nature to friends and family over dinner, or to random members of the general public within earshot at any time. Especially if colonoscopies, enemas, or flaky skin conditions are involved.

More importantly, the more you talk about being old, the more you increase the chance that people will think of you as “an old fart.” They’re not trying to. It’s just one of those persistent nuisances of the human psyche, that our mental associations with certain topics tend to stick to whomever we hear discuss them the most often.

Instead, act nonchalant as much as you can. Don’t bring up the topic of old age. If someone else does, pretend like the thought had never occurred to you. (Yes, even when your bunions are acting up.)

2.  Don’t complain about the evils of today’s young people. You were just as evil back in the day with your hot rod cars and swing dances, you whippersnapper you.

Besides, young people of any generation who go astray (and I don’t mean testing-the-limits teenager stuff, but, like, seriously off the rails) generally do so in large part because their elders have failed them. Kids don’t just absorb the important lessons of life through osmosis. Someone has to teach and model good values. The key is, it has to be done with consistency and without condemnation. If the older generation disapproves of how today’s young people have “turned out”, it may be worth taking a collective look in the mirror.

Even better, find a kid or a young adult whom you can help and encourage. Believe me, this will make a huge impression on them, even if they don’t let on. I’m over thirty years old, and I can still remember the older adults who took an interest in me, paid me honest compliments, and went out of their way to be nice to me when I was just five or six. I also remember the ones who humiliated, belittled, criticized, and judged me. However you treat a young person, whether well or poorly, they’ll never forget it.

3.  Don’t tell hard luck stories. Especially not of the stereotypically embellished and exaggerated “me and my nine siblings walked barefoot to school in the snow for five miles, uphill both ways, and ate dirt for lunch, and it wasn’t even warmed-up dirt, we had to eat it cold, but we were thankful for it and we didn’t complain” variety. It may elicit some pity, but what self-respecting person really wants to be pitied? This won’t resonate with a young audience anyway, since they have no frame of reference from which to relate to such a tale. Their world is completely unlike yours.

4. Try new things. This will stimulate neural pathways, which is good for your brain. It will also keep people from telling you that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Go ahead, prove them wrong. Do you really want to let them call you a dog, anyway?

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