I don’t know if you ever should.
But then, actually that just makes me complicit in the ‘cult of youth’.
It’s something it’s easy to fall into by accident.
When I work with children and young people they often end up trying to guess my age. The answer is almost always older than I actually am. There is no problem with this, yet I fall into a weird trap, and act offended when they say it.
It’s silly how there’s some default societal positions on things that it’s so easy to fall into. You just react a certain way without thinking.
Like squealing at hearing that people are getting married (despite not exactly believing in the outmoded, patriarchal institution of marriage).
Anyway, age is different.
Age is such a ridiculous thing to, as a whole society, be prejudiced against. Obviously there’s a lot to be gained by the marketers from the worship of youth. It means they can perpetually associate everything exciting with the bright and the beautiful.
But there’s so much brightness and beauty in ageing, and a whole lot more.
I was discussing this last night with a certain friend. It turned into a huge debate about wisdom.
It seems a bit obvious to attach wisdom to the old, but I think there’s a logic to it.
Basically, I think wisdom comes from two things, making mistakes, and being mindful (particularly of your mistakes).
You can’t really change how intelligent you are, although you can certainly learn more things.
The key to really growing up is being mature enough to start properly listening to the world. Not just what people are saying, but what they might be thinking and how they might be feeling. And everything else as well. The way the world reacts to each occurence.
Particularly when you’re cocking things up.
Mistakes are ideal learning experiences, if you pay attention to them.
I think, with age, comes the maturity to pay enough attention to what you are doing and why you might be doing it. You start paying attention to yourself and others. You start noticing your mistakes, and learning from them.
That’s when you really start to become wise.
And funnily enough, the old have lots more opportunity to make mistakes, and to learn from them. They have more experience to pay attention to. You do get wise young people sometimes, and you also get stupid old people, but the odds get stacked in your favour the older you get. The more life you’ve lived.
And even in our appearance based society, age can be sexy. Wrinkles and grey hair both have a certain something. And I, personally, would fuck Ian McKellan at the drop of a wizardy hat (seriously, I don’t think I could do it if he was dressed like Gandalf, that’s too weird).
So maybe you can call yourself old whenever you’ve learnt that it’s not a bad thing. Then it’s safe to.
And that point should come much earlier in life.
Illustration by Lucy.