If you let it, aging pays off with unique benefits. As someone said (and I wish I could find the quote), “An old person can remember youth better than a youth can imagine what it’s like to be old.” Age accumulates experiences, especially for those who kept their senses alert while they matured. Experiences, and the knowledge and insights that result, are valuable.
The turbulent times we are going through are painful for many. If you are young, then they are the worst times you’re experienced and there may seem to be no end to the trauma. More years means more chances to have been through other bad times, and for every bad time there was a recovery and a healing. Maybe someday civilization will have a final bout of bad that is terminal, but that is probably ages from now. Even today’s worst case scenarios leave more people alive than the worst consequences of the Cold War’s Mutually Assured Destruction. It won’t be easy avoiding additional trouble and strife. The planet’s too wounded to get better with just a bandage. But more people are becoming aware, and progress is being made.
We name our disastrous periods with greater passion than we do the good times. Aside from the Roaring Twenties, every other recovery period is seen as that, a recovery from what came before, or it is labeled with words like Boom that preview the Bust to come. No wonder it can be hard to find optimists sometimes. Our vocabulary is richer in words for crisis than it is for celebration.
I learned that lesson in college when I read, on my own volition, Dante’s trilogy. Most people know about Dante’s Inferno. Fewer people know that it was the first book in a trilogy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso. Even fewer understand why stories about hell would be called the Divine Comedy. I don’t remember laughing. I do remember being interested, entertained, and then bored. Hell, Inferno, has rich language. Descriptions of torments are vivid, layered, and convey great incentives for not committing those sins. Purgatorio, was less intense, had good stories, but as I recollect, the stories were moderated to remove themselves from torture which should be in hell and bliss which should be in heaven. They were entertaining without being engrossing. Paradiso was a fast skim. Everything was bliss of various sorts, but it was as if there wasn’t a large enough vocabulary to distinguish one bit of paradise from another. Shortly into I was thinking, “Okay, I get it. It’s Heaven.”
Lately the politicians and the media have become comfortable selling fear. There’s more to talk about. The sound bites are snappier. Maybe it’s easier to play those intense emotions across their faces. They’ve taken this to such extremes that they’ve become the butt of jokes without realizing it. Why else would 215,000 people show up in Washington D.C. to satirize them with Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive or openly laugh at them with Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity? Even a public display like that wasn’t enough to elicit much of a response. The most prominent politician to publicly approve was Pres. Obama. Despite the campaign rhetoric, he’s the one that “gets it”. The rest still don’t understand that they’re the punch line to a sad joke that they’ve helped write.
It is easiest to understand the absurdity and perversity of today’s political, media and consequentially financial climates by having lived through previous absurdities and perversities. It is hard to imagine how the McCarthy Era happened slightly before my time. In retrospect it has been largely forgotten except to become material or a very good, but uncommon movie like “Good Night, and Good Luck“. Every decade includes bizarre behaviour. The Sixties certainly weren’t normal. The Seventies were a time to survive the ugly bits that Nixon embodied. The Eighties were marked by wild finances, a crash in 1987, and the divisive politics of the Reagan Era. The Nineties are the closest we’ve had to a recovery time, and that decade is known for it’s bubble that was about to pop. The Dismal Decade was defined by the one-day tragedy of 9/11, but in retrospect it may be better identified with our extreme reaction. Trillions of dollars spent for a real threat, but one that was much smaller than two world wars or the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation.
See? I did it too. It is too easy to dwell in the bad. But look at what happened in the meantime. Many of our problems now exist because for billions of people life was increasingly better as the decades went by. Life expectancy, infant survivability, race relations, sexual equality, information dissemination, have all improved dramatically. Ignoring the headlines and the politicians while becoming more aware of your own experiences may be a road to a happier life.
I remind myself of this because I’ve been known to have bad days. My portfolio isn’t as sprightly as I’d like. My health has a curious issue or two. I’d rather not be single. But I’ve also learned to appreciate that where I am is beautiful, that I am healthy enough to walk across Scotland, and that I have plenty of friends. My portfolio is even comprised of companies that are healthier than their stocks, which suggests a nice improvement to my net worth eventually.
Those few dozen positive words after hundreds of the ones about absurdities is typical. I know that. I’ve lived long enough to have seen it many times. And I know that despite the fear and worry, things are getting better. I’m glad that I’m not twenty and wondering if this is all there will ever be.
And given enough time, I expect to see my portfolio improving. That’s one place where I really know that aging pays.