Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Strong and the Gray

I’m confident that at least 14 sociologists has studied this, many times over, and come to different conclusions from their colleagues, but when did the American obsession with youth actually begin? Was it something that’s been there all along?  Or is it of more recent vintage?

I don’t think it’s my imagination. Putting off the advance of age is a multi-billion dollar industry. Popular culture is aimed squarely at youth. Advertising focuses on and celebrates youth.

I don’t know when it started, but I suspect elements of our obsession with youth have always been embedded with the culture, relatively hidden or of minor note, until two things happened, both in the 20th century: mass media, beginning with radio but changed forever with television, and then the Baby Boom.

I’m a Boomer myself, one of 86 million strong born between 1946 and 1964 (I’m not exactly sure why 1964 is the cut-off date, but it usually is). The Baby Boom came into this world like a human tsunami and changed everything about America: schools, culture, the workplace, social and moral values, entertainment, attitudes about trust and authority – there wasn’t much left untouched. And now we’re beginning to enter retirement, and we’re going to remake nursing homes, geriatric medicine and health, and the cemetery business.

An interesting observation: it was only with the Baby Boom that generations of Americans came to have names. In a sense, we even required that our parents’ generation be named (thank you, Tom Brokaw). And after us is Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials. Even our children were referred to as the Baby Boomlet.

Mass media, demographic changes, fear of aging and death – all of these have contributed with our obsession with youth. And then there’s also the reality that young people simply look more attractive than old people.

We associate youth with change, ideas, the willingness to try to new things, the refusal to accept the status quo, and even physical strength. We associate old people with gray hair, failing eyesight, and wheelchairs. We don’t associate older people with wisdom, unless they happen to be the guru of the month.

The Bible would say we have it backwards.

In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge cites Proverbs 20:29: “The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head.” From an American cultural perspective, we get the part about youth and strength, but no one associates gray hair with splendor.

But the question is, where does the gray hair come from?

“Gray hair,” Sorge says, “represents experience, pain, one who has lived though life’s difficulties.” And gray hair sits atop those who were once young and strong.

He describes it as a life process – something that must happen if one is to attain wisdom. Over time, he says, God uses the experiences of life to help us understand that it’s not about us, it’s not about youth and beauty and strength. It’s about something else entirely.

Someone who has been through the experiences of life “has seen the faithfulness of God through great pressures, and he now has a testimony. It is not the strong but the gray who are fruitful” (emphasis added).

Our culture has it exactly backwards.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Brokenness,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Maureen said...

Wiki points to the impossibility of any consensus on the precise dates. Wiki also says we tend to think of ourselves as "a special generation". Not "The Special Generation", however. Makes me laugh. Interestingly, the cutoff date in Australia is 1947-1966.

Did you know the cohort preceding us is called "Silent Generation" (1925-1945)? And that in UK the Boomer phase is called "The Bulge"? Fun stuff.

jasonS said...

We absolutely do have it backwards and I sure wish it were only in the "world" but it's squarely in the Western church as well. God most certainly thinks and moves inter-generationally. He's the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When generations come together, there is a divine strength that takes place per God's design. Good thoughts. I don't know about your hair color, but I do appreciate your wisdom, Glynn. :) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

like looking in mirror

Wise Hearted said...

Around 60 I decided to stop coloring my hair since we were living in Papua New Guinea and my hair color had to mailed to me from the states. Also we lived where it was hot, humid and on the worst days I might take three or four showers a day to just keep from having heat rash. Beside I was pretty comfortable with who I was so why not, no color, it was totally freeing. It only took a few cuts and I was not gray but white and I started getting compliments from Papua New Guineans women how beautiful they thought I was. They would come up to me in the open market, stores and in the villages we visited and make a comment on my hair. You see gray or white hair is a sign of wisdom and they respect that. I will admit I got compliments when we came home to the USA but not as many. Usually women would say, when did you stop coloring your hair and why? The men were a little wiser, they never said a word. Until this past summer and a younger man standing outside talking to me said, you know Betty, you hair is like, like garland on a Christmas tree, white garland with different shades of red and the sun makes it shine. Wow...All that to say I really like this post, glad I jumped over through your comment on Jason site. I am glad I am part of the baby boomers, seen a lot, done a lot and use it all to help others. Especially those who tell me my hair looks like garland.

TC Avey said...

our society is very backward.

I love my mom's grey hair...she earned every strand. I pray someday to have her beautiful hair, wisdom, and endurance. I know no stronger person, even if the world views her otherwise.