The living room of an old person’s home has a thing about it. “Their thing,” to be precise. Such a place usually has a particular feel, scent, dust/grime quotient, and a frozen in time quality, that is both haunting and intriguing.
The carpet, the furniture, and the wallpaper all have born witness to the arc of a life or lives that have gone from actively growing, reaching, and achieving to stillness, passivity, unwitting disengagement, and ultimately decay. Once the occupants of this place were counted in the numbers of an up and coming vanguard generation. The status quo creaked and groaned under the pressure of the change they demanded, finally acquiescing as a new world was forged by the sheer force of their will. So it is with each generation. Cliche warning: change is the only constant, until it’s not.
“Dad jokes,” ha! The beginning of generational culture division is humorously summarized in those two simple words. Dad jokes are the harbinger of connectivity obsolescence which makes them extra funny, or morbidly awkward. Take your pick.
Getting older is a foregone conclusion, getting wiser is not. Dad jokes are optional. An aging generation can opt for continuing education, the conscious act of learning about and remaining connected to the next generation, or not. These options bear the seeds of individual cultural choice that if not planted wisely may well find their harvest in the living room of an old person’s home.
I’m not saying that redecorating is the key to staying relevant. Of course, such endeavors require the allocation of resources that may or may not be in short supply depending on personal circumstance. Following trends and continually updating one’s position in this world is a slippery slope to be sure. The justification for such efforts is inextricably tied to the end goal. What can we expect a quest for relevance to yield?
Social evolution is historically proven, factually undeniable. To remain relevant one must acknowledge, embrace and act in accordance with the principles lifting that wave. Here we are confronted with the specter of “Identity.” The crescendo of identity formation is represented by the metaphorical “brand new living room” conceived and actualized at the pinnacle of a life where we make our victorious statement, whether we realize it or not. “We’ve arrived,” and here’s the interior design masterpiece to prove it; insert modernist decor, steampunk accoutrements, colonial, mid-century or whatever statement seems fitting to illustrate the reaching of one’s personal triumph at the perceived summit of their material journey. This perch is a victory that in its very achievement can, if we are not vigilant, become a living tomb. An apex reached may by definition offer only descent as a next step. That’s where choice, and particularly choosing to step outside the box becomes an engaging, challenging, potentially life-affirming if ego-threatening moment, and at best, a most welcome alternative to programmed obsolescence.
I’m not suggesting that we don the sailor outfit our mother’s had us wear for our four-year-old portrait, or the nightmare ruffled pastel leisure suit style tuxedo we wore to the prom a thousand years ago. I am however suggesting that resting on accomplishments of any kind leads to the possibility of disconnection from the inevitable; from tomorrow, the day after, and so on. Retaining accrued wisdom while remaining open to fresh, if potentially identity challenging perspectives means we still get to be ourselves, but in liquid rather than solid form, metaphorically speaking.
Being relevant is not an inalienable human right. Being relevant is a quest that requires constant attention, adjustment, acceptance of that we do not yet fully understand, and most importantly the willingness to allow for the possibility that identity is ephemeral. In the game of relevance, personal commitment to evolution is the only winning strategy. Identity, if not fluid, becomes the anchor that prevents us from riding the wave of social metamorphosis. The real kicker is that our identity issues have the superpower of invisibility as it relates to our ability to honestly see ourselves as others see us. Ugh!
If I find myself in the weeks leading up to my death stripping wallpaper, tearing up carpet, and fondling paint samples, it will be no more than a physical manifestation of my desire to understand the current consciousness of my children’s or my children’s children’s world. My last valiant effort to understand and assimilate the language, challenges, and opportunities that are continuously spawning in perpetuity outside the soul prison walls of the living room of an old person’s home.