This week has been filled with conversations with my oldest child. The conversations are about his future, as well as opinions on everything I have to say about life.
In other words, my 15-year-old knows everything.
As I listened to him telling me I was wrong to think this or label that, I held myself back from arguing. I had my say and let him have his say. At the risk of sounding condescending, I realize I have 4 decades more of life experience than he does. And while his perspective is and will be different, experience in itself changes us all in similar ways.
I’m not sure there is any benefit to a young person having the perspective that I have. I can’t imagine the difficulty a young person would have striking out into the world with the circumspection, compromise, and humility that my 53 years of life have given me. Building a life, relationships, education, and career are helped with the belief that the world is black & white, that people and events follow principles one can know, that maintaining one’s principles through hardship is a virtue, and that an ultimate meaning exists and will make itself obvious at some point in the future.
So, young people, don’t sweat it now. Stay busy connecting, gathering, and building as you create your life.
It was a similar situation with my girlfriend, who was 25 years younger than me. After three years together, we broke up this winter. It was a wonderful relationship in many ways, even when we disagreed. We often talked about life in general ways. She had different priorities, and I had twice the life experience as she, so there was quite a bit of disconnect. Still, I wasn’t there to change her, to convince her of anything. I just wanted to share my thoughts, but she wanted a right and wrong. I was sharing ideas about which we were both “right” from our own perspectives, while she felt one of us had to be wrong and argued as such.
In time, she will likely see the other side of the dichotomies she now ardently enforces through her language and choice. In time, she may come to believe, like me, that the differences are less about right/wrong than about both/neither and not really oppositions at all. And much of what we discussed was context-dependent, something you can truly understand only when you see yourself change. But gaining that perspective at her age rather than at my age, as a product of debate rather than from living, is not helpful. The perspective she has now is how she navigates her twenties. She needs to live her twenties without a 53-year-old perspective getting in the way.
I was thinking about this because I ran across a few writings by Daoists that mention age as an aspect of Daoist belief.
One mentioned that children should not be raised Daoist by their parents, because they should make their own choice when they are mature. The other mentioned that Daoism is a way of living that appeals more to those over, say, 50 years old. I’m sorry to say I don’t have the links. I try to keep track of such things so those reading here can read further elsewhere, but I’ve processed quite a lot this week.
The ultimate pursuit of the Dao is about cultivating oneself — self-transformation. Noncoercive action (wuwei), unprincipled knowing (wuzhi), and objectless desire (wuyu) allow the process of living to unfold spontaneously on its own terms. This is a place age brings us to as we begin to lose our social and economic powers in the world. But it’s also a way of living that many of us embrace because we come to realize that we never really had control, despite what youth had us believing.
As a young person, I knew if I could clearly label the world, make “good” choices, and maintain my principles through hardship, I would be successful.
I smile — affectionately — at my 20-year-old self.