Growing Better

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For May 16 and 17, 2015

 

Growing Better

David W. Hegg

 

Our society is obsessed with many things but none more so than aging. I don’t think a day passes but that I hear someone complaining about the consequences of getting older. Birthdays, once highly anticipated, now seem like the enemy, and we do all we can to hold them at bay. But it is all for naught. Time marches on and it seems to be trampling all over us.

 

We’re all growing older. Despite the frantic fight to dress, talk, act, and feel younger, there’s no denying the truth. We’re all growing older, every day, in multiple ways. But that’s not what we should be concentrating on. The real question is this: are we growing better?

 

My friends know I’m a collector of aphorisms. One of my favorites is “the older I get the more I become like who I am.”

 

Think about it. From the time we start to care about what others think of us, we start the massive game of trying to fit in with the crowd around us, to be accepted and even applauded. Those that can, put the current fads to good use while those who can’t go the other way and join the non-conformists. But in each case we are at least partially motivated and influenced by what others think. And – face it! – it can be quite fatiguing to be continually pushed into society’s mold.

 

But, at some point, we all realize the freedom to just be who we are. We start dressing for comfort rather than for show. We start saying “no” to the stupid things folks around us think are so cool. We lose our fear that someone might disagree with us, or think we’re weird or criticize our opinions and actions. We find the freedom to be who we really are, and it usually happens as we dip our toes into our 5th decade.

 

As freeing as all this can be, that’s actually when the real problems start. Too many folks escape the clutches of public opinion only to find out they are nothing in themselves. They are shocked to find that, in reality, they are insipid souls without depth or breadth. They have spent so much time pretending to be something else that they’ve forgotten to build their own character, amass their own intellectual wealth, and build their own solid core of ethical values and convictions. They’ve grown older but not better. They have added years, but not wisdom. They can speak to the current fads and gossip but not to the basic yearnings of their souls.

 

We simply must break free from our society’s addiction to the myth that youth is king. To do this we must crush the lie that value is found primarily in the physical rather than the spiritual. Our preoccupation with the vitality of youth obscures the reality that wisdom is much more important than beauty. This is clear from the natural progression of time by which the first is lost and the second gained in the same manner … little by little.

 

To stake your happiness on the ability to stay young is sheer folly. Far better to understand that your life can be beautiful and satisfying and of great benefit to those around you, even as youth fades, so long as you realize the privilege it is to grow older, and at the same time, to grow better.

 

So, let’s accept that challenge of the inevitable. Growing older is actually a privilege that is not granted to everyone. Let’s quit worrying about aging since we can’t control it anyway. Let’s grow older and at the same time strive to grow better. After all, it sure beats the alternative.