21. Is older more peaceable?

Ted Grimsrud—Purpose vol. 45, no. 5 (May 2012), p. 28.

Is there a relationship between growing older and becoming more peaceable?

I’m not sure what I think about that. On the one hand, certainly as I grow older it becomes less and less thinkable that I could imagine engaging in a violent act. Most soldiers are young, as, indeed, are most people convicted of violent crimes.

But on the other hand, as I learn more about peace movements over the past century, the more impressed I am with the role of young people. Probably the greatest peace movement in American history, the costly and oh-so-challenging efforts to undo the evils of racism and segregation in the American South were mainly the work of young people.

A fascinating book on the Civil Rights Movement by David Halberstam has an appropriate title, The Children. It features the story of great heroes as John Lewis and Diane Nash, who were both about 20 years old when they led the epoch-shifting sit-in actions that ultimately integrated Nashville, Tennessee. The “senior” leaders of the Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Lawson, were around 30 years old in 1960.

I’d like to think that as we grow older we grow wiser. That we gain more clarity about the things that truly matter—peace, compassion, healthy relationships—and lose our interest in narrow ideologies and the kinds of polarized debates that foster so much violence.

I’m not convinced that the evidence bears this older leads to wiser dynamic, though, sad to say. Maybe it’s my own distorted vision (as if, even as I approach the beginning of my seventh decade of life I retain my youthful suspicion of older people!).

Nonetheless, this is what I perceive: It is the older generation that tends to hold onto class, racial, religious, gender, and sexual-identity stereotypes. It seems like we tend to keep following the path we set out on earlier in life—be it toward peace or toward accommodation with a violent culture.

If it is true that growing older is no guarantee of wisdom, that growing older does not inevitably lead to growing more peaceable, perhaps we should not be passive about our aging processes. If we want to grow wiser and more peaceable, we best seek to do so now—whether we are 57 or 37 or 17.

In the words of a popular song from my youth (45 years ago!): “The time it is today…”

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