The slow-mo civility of (certain) seniors

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. E. M. Hallowell was asked why people are so rude. He replied "We're too busy, too goal-directed". And why in turn are we so goal-directed?

Johns Hopkins professor Dr. P. M. Forni says that while we need to make ends meet, there is a deeper reason for our busyness: "In an anonymous and egalitarian society, we struggle every day to
establish our identity and make our mark."

Freed of the imperative to strive, many become more civil.

My in-laws traveled across North Ame
rica for fifteen years, gypsies in an RV. "People are so much nicer when they're retired," FIL observed. "They're willing to help you, they're cooperative." What Forni calls "pride in being, rather than pride in doing", has worth to these elders.

I thought that the gracious manners and genuine interest my mother's friends showed when I visited was a product of their times. Reared to be welcoming and attentive, they would receive me warmly and invite me to have a cup of tea that usually stretched to nearly an hour's chat. A fifteen minute 'drop in' was not considered polite.

They did not necessarily have 'all the time in the world', just because the world of work no longer consumed them; they gave their time as a way of caring.


The cliché of the cranky old man or mean little biddy is well-established for a reason: a type like the man who glared poison darts when I eased my car into the (legal!) spot near (but hardly dangerously!) where he was strolling is out there.

But more often, I find those some years ahead of me, given that they enjoy decent health, are better listeners, more present and connected than their 50ish children. They don't finish your sentences, glance continually at their BlackBerry during a conversation they requested, or say they will "try" to return your call.

I smile to think of the bird-flippers, streetcar-litterers, line-cutters and sidewalk-bike riders suddenly transformed when they open their first pension cheque. Not likely. But I am looking forward to the rise in communal service and caring that my FIL observed. We need it, and not a moment too soon.

9 comments

Frugal Scholar said...

I don't know. My parents moved to a mostly-senior condo community about 15 yrs ago, and many people I saw were very much into asserting their identity. In fact, they had the sense of entitlement commonly associated with the baby boomers. Sometimes I think that this attitude comes from having all these people with a sense of impending mortality in a smallish space. I will be seeking out different options for myself.

Also, the friendliest and most helpful people are the busiest: New Yorkers, who will walk you to the subway station or take the time to help you find what you need.

spacegeek33 said...

I am working hard to instill politeness and caring in my small children. They are 2 and half (twin girls). Please and No thank you come out of their mouths graciously these days. Yesterday as I was leaving for work, one child told me "I love you mommy! Take care!" So I hope I'm on the right track. Our plan is to take them to volunteer opportunities as they grow so that they understand they need to be part of the community and that not everyone is as lucky as they are. I think we must instill a spirit of community and caring from the very early age to reduce the sense of entitlement.

Duchesse said...

Frugal: Maybe the behaviour my FIL observed was among those who realized that community was valuable- on the road, they needed others' occasional help and enjoyed the cameraderie. Retirement 'homes' can be isolating (despite all the activities). What options are you considering?

spacegeek: It does begin at an early age- and that comment you got comes from the heart, not from "What do you say?"

sallymandy said...

Wise words, well said. Thanks.

Imogen Lamport said...

Is it just breeding? Is it personality? All those A types who are very driven may be more inward focussed and thus not notice or give the time to others. The less driven Bs may spend a bit longer and be more helpful, no matter how busy they are?

Mardel said...

Do you think just not having a deadline is enough? I think some people will never see far enough beyond their own personal horizons to have time for sharing, even in retirement. Or maybe type "A" people seek out retirement environments that suit their personalities and never slow down or relax.

It should be interesting to see how things evolve.

Duchesse said...

Imogen and mardel: I guess it's a combination of factors. But removing the stress of work has to make a difference for many.

Anjela's Day said...

In my little store I see the worst!(and the best) Older people who are all in a hurry....to where...eternity?
An ex Broadway singer(80) who still drives her car and still dates. A 92 year old divinity student who just graduated from Yale and met a 80 something year old man in my store.He is an author and called me to ask if I wouldn't mind giving her his number.I did.They are seeing each other. 92 sounds ancient but it isn't and they are both such aggreable people- not in a hurry at all.
People usually don't have five minutes.I think it is just rudeness.
I was totally confused the other day when a man came in and he wasn't in a hurry.He said he had all the time in the world.He wore a hat and as he left the store he raised his hat to me.I thought about him all day and into the evening.I thought about his smile and his gesture that made my day like a smiley face. It sent out ripples.I saw him as a template and actually it made all the other customers bearable. He had a life. He seemd happy. What a joy. And he was in his 80s! I think some older people are afraid to slow down in case they stop.

Duchesse said...

Anjela: Your hat-tipping man sounds delightful. The slower I go, the better I like it: I see people, I experience life instead of blindly rushing through it. Productivity is highly overrated.