Society is now one polished horde.
Formed of two mighty tribes.
The Bores and the Bored
Byron, Don Juan
Boredom is a multi-faceted phenomenon in our days and we may well be justified in considering another dimension of this destructive force. (See last weeks’ Thoughts to Ponder.)
In the “olden days,” it was a privilege to be mature. It was something people would strive for. It meant maturity of attitude, a great amount of experience and knowledge of how to deal with the problems of life. It also meant well-considered opinions. This is no longer the case. Most of the time this is not due to the fact that younger people have become more experienced or knowledgeable, but because the older generation, i.e. those who used to be considered mature, have suddenly shown signs of immaturity.
This is shown in the way our older generation deals with free time. While in earlier days people used their free time to do creative work for which they had no time when they were working, we find that most “mature” people today spend their free time by returning to their childhood. Often they watch television, see a movie or spend their time in bed and other similar “activities”. This is exactly what they did when they were very young: to hear, watch and sleep: passive conduct.
As such, passivity is no longer the “privilege” of the young. It has become the preferred norm for all ages. As a result, the distinction between young and old has been obliterated.
There is a distinct difference between a father who is involved in a creative activity, even when it is only building a chicken house, and a father sitting for hours in front of a DVD screen. In the first case, he is mature; in the second case, he shows signs of impending immaturity. Sadly it is exactly these kinds of activities that their children witness. His or her father may be a professor at a university, but at home he has returned to his childhood. This is not to deny the value of watching television. Sometimes television offers excellent programs. But once children see their parents constantly in this kind of passive condition instead of creativity, joie de vivre and study etc, one has sold one’s birthright for a soup of lentils.
That this results in the fact that the older generation has lost its dignity in the eyes of the young is obvious. Strangely, however, this does not mean that the mature admits his immaturity but that the immature considers himself to be mature. The son recognizes that he does the same as his father: nothing. And out of that negativity the son fills his life: he clothes himself with the garments of maturity which his father has rejected.
One of the greatest contributions of the Jewish Tradition over the thousands of years is the fact that the elderly learn, explore and interpret Torah, Mishnah, Talmud and other religious texts since their earliest childhood. Once their experience of learning has been positive, passionate, and even fun, their love for learning has increased so much that in the days of retirement they cannot wait to get back to their studies whatever their physical circumstances. This time their return to immaturity is the greatest of blessings. Their bodies may show signs of old age but they discover unspent youth.
There is, however, another issue concerning young and old. It relates to the decline in religious consciousness. This time it is the disappearance of the belief in the “afterlife”. Whatever one believes about afterlife is not the issue here. What is the issue is that in earlier days, youth had a degree of respect for the elderly, because they believed that the older were closer to “Heaven” and therefore to the “truth.” Somehow elderly people were “nearly there.” A few more years, months or days and they would enter the “real thing.” As such, the elderly person sat close to the door, while the younger ones were still in the waiting room. Today, however, this is no longer the case. The elder is no longer seen as one “nearly there” but as one “nearly nowhere.” This has entered into the communal consciousness of modern man. The older man has lost his grandeur, and the younger people see him as having served his “time”. This is a tragedy.
(1) Inspired by some thoughts of the late Godfried Bomans, Holland