Saturday, October 23, 2010

Forgive, yes. Forget? Maybe

The other day at the library I picked up a free seniors' magazine, not the one I write for. I read it for a specific column by a writer I know. I sought that column first, skipping the many ads for retirement residences and avoiding the illness-related articles. But as I leafed through, I happened to glance at the editorial. The editor, who looks young in her photo, gave readers seven tips on how to have a good life as an oldster. Much of the advice was sound, but one item jarred: "Judge others less harshly."

In my experience (fifteen to twenty years) working with people older than myself, I have found that seniors don't judge others harshly. They are usually willing to make allowances and to look for extenuating circumstances. They remember the the rough edges they had when they were younger, and are generally tolerant, kind, and appreciative when treated kindly.

But life experience has also taught older people to recognize what's worthwhile and what's not. As a Reiki master once said to me, "We're too old to put up with things that aren't right."

Another article urged older adults to "let go of grudges, jealousy, guilt and regret" and not to be "stuck in negativity." On the surface, this advice seems sound. Reacting negatively sucks up energy that would be better spent on something enjoyable. Mulling over this advice, though, I concluded that it is glib. It glosses over the reality and the complexity of life. Few of us can say, "Je regrette rien," like Edith Piaf in her famous song. Moi? Je regrette beaucoup.

And, can you will a feeling away? Feelings in a particular situation may fade as one moves forward in life. Feelings change when we observe something or learn something that makes us feel differently.

I believe in forgiveness, sure, but should an older adult forgive someone who ripped him or her off in a serious way (or tried to) and then accept that person into his/her life as a bosom friend? Sometimes a little wariness is a healthy thing. Sheould a senior put himself or herself in close proximity to someone who deals in put-downs and passes them off as banter? ("Oh, you're just tooooo sensitive!")

The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Sure, some people grow and become better people. Some undergo transformative experiences that change the way they act toward others. And sometimes the change doesn't last.

All of us, including older adults, must look after our own well-being, and if that means keeping at arm's length certain people who have wronged you in the past (even by eroding your self-esteem) then so be it.

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