As I write this, I’m staring down the off-ramp of a very tumultuous year, for me—I’m surrounded by the detritus of an impending move, among other stresses—and so are many of us, here in the U.S. and around the world.
So naturally I’ve turned to thinking about my New Year’s resolutions, and in addition to renewing last year’s, I resolve to treat my parents with more respect. It’s not that I’m often disrespectful, but I do need to work on my patience with them, especially in the realm of filial tech support, a common source of exasperation for many of us lucky enough to have healthy, but aging, parents.
While you can most certainly teach an old dog new tricks, it doesn’t get any easier for us to absorb new ideas as we age, and I was ruminating on how this works. Sure, our processing power and memory may decline somewhat, but there’s also something to be said for all the good data cramming up our heads. The older we get and the more we remember, the more old data the new stuff has to compete with—and be weighed against.
And this fact doesn’t even need to have a moral value; it just is. It can hold us back, and it can ground us to be able to move us forward more easily.
I consider myself progressive—even if I don’t call myself by that label due to differences with the current popular school—and I hope I retain that inclination for the long term. But at the same time I have—largely through Braver Angels—come to appreciate more the perspectives of those “who [stand] athwart history yelling Stop,” as William F. Buckley put it.
It’s actually less about preventing our impulses for forward movement, and moreso about the regard we hold for those who feel differently about which way actually is forward.
We would be wise to recognize that eventually we all play the role of fuddy-duddies stuck in our ways. It may be as a grandparent struggling to learn new tech tools to communicate with our grandkids. Or we may find ourselves disoriented as the moral universe shifts over time, bending towards a new conception of justice that seems extreme, even absolutist, with no room for our “problematic” selves.
As I move ahead into the new year, I resolve to keep this in mind, trying to judge less, learn more, and practice grace, knowing I eventually will be the one who needs it.