Questions for the Old and Young (Summer in the Republic 6)

Questions for the Old and Young (Summer in the Republic 6) June 10, 2018

I am in the youth of old age. So says my mother and she is always right.

There comes a time when you are the youngest person to have your job and then another moment when you are the senior member of your startup. If our project survives, the future will belong to Megan, Cate, and the younger leaders, not to me.

I am old. Thank God.

If you are old, then you have one advantage, you have been young and now are not young. If you are young, you have a greater advantage, you are young now and now might be different than any youngling time has ever been.


Or maybe that’s what my generation thought as well and nothing much has changed. Yesterday’s cool is tomorrow’s uncoool. The point is that it is good to talk, because some experiences will be common to each generation and some will not. Everyone can learn from the past. One sorrow of death is the chronological isolation we feel. We cannot ask Mother Eve what things were like in her day. There is no going down to the market to chat with Socrates. There are only books that recall a fragment of what once was.

I need friends even older than I am (in the old age of old age!) and some who are younger. The twenty and thirty somethings teach me things they have learned not just about the changing world, but the eternal things. Sometimes fresh eyes can see the beauty that was always there. In older folks, both what is new is revealed and also what the journey might be like. If I am blessed to live longer, I will be in place like the one they inhabit.

Plato understood this and has Socrates meeting an old friend, much aged:

Cephalus, I count conversations with very old people among my greatest pleasures. We ought to learn from them as from travelers oil a road we have not yet taken but which most of us, sooner or later, are destined to follow. What is it like? Is the journey rough and hazardous, or are there pleasures and satisfactions on the way? How does it look to you now that you have reached what the poets call “the threshold of old age”? Is being old difficult to bear? What kind of report can you give us?

Socrates, as always, gives us questions to ask. We should approach a new generation without assumptions or prejudices waiting for the report of their experience, if they choose to give one.

What is it like? 

I am most struck by the question: Is being old difficult to bear? 

What if we were to ask and wait for answers. I suspect that we would be helped and help. Is loneliness so common in both the young and the old now, because we do not ask, we tell. “Here are five things to do to have a good old age.” “Here are ten things to know about the millennial generation.”

We forget that the person, this older man, this young adult, this middle aged philosopher is unique to himself not a meme. Socrates understood. Let’s start asking questions and listening in the Republic.


*I begin an informal summer reading of Republic using Scott/Sterling (a new translation for me). Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6.

**I have no idea how much of what I know is just Professor Al Geier filtered through my eccentricity. Here is to you Al!

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