Aging is a natural condition of life, of which few can escape. How to face physical and mental decadence? Is it possible to continue enjoying life? Historian Leandro Karnal, 55, took the Teatro Santander stage during the Plenae platform launching in May to give the audience a clear message: “People need to reinvent, transcend time and repurpose their life trajectories.”
Karnal mentioned theologian and philosopher St. Augustine. “He said if we can’t look at the future as strategic, we’re doomed to remain in a continuous present.” Doctor of medicine and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, in 1941, used the expression “emotional plague” referring to the negative actions of people who make use of all resources to change the environment, imposing their own way of life. Being open to new ideas, being curious and wanting to learn are tools that lead to a renewal of the “I”, in relationships and in love ties.
“It’s impossible to survive the boredom of day-to-day without transcending. It can be the routine of a marriage, for example. In this case, you are not living with the same woman. She remained in the past. Therefore, it will be necessary to reinvent this relationship.” Karnal says that his grandmother used to say that “in her days, people were politer.” I had to remind her that she left second world war Germany. There was no politeness in the Auschwitz concentration camp. But my grandmother was stuck to the idea of the past to deny the present.”
“It’s hard to see yourself come undone in front of the mirror, but it’s unavoidable. If it’s unavoidable, the best is to continue taking advantage and making your contribution,” wrote Norberto Bobbio (1909-2004), author of Old Age and Other Essays. Karnal says that old age is accompanied by the triple fear of physical, mental and financial failure.
Youngsters know more. “We have an unprecedented inversion. For thousands of years, the older taught the younger. They knew which gods to pray to, which seeds to plant,” says Karnal, pointing out that technology today has become the most important knowledge. The youngsters have this knowledge. The elderly don’t. “Old people learned a series of things that are no longer important. I learned how to mimeograph, send a fax. In the space of one generation, the world aged significantly.” Karnal remembers that social security systems, “even in honest countries”, undergo crises. “The Japanese minister once said that Japanese do not contribute to the country. They don’t die.”
Market. Karnal says that the key to business today is to think of a very varied consumer. My client could be a baby boomer, with the possibility that he’s generation X, Y or Z. “If I have a company that exclusively targets generation X, I’m not reaching the more advanced consumers. At the same time, if I focus on a more conservative audience, I won’t renew my portfolio of customers.”
Today, the world is aging faster than in the past. In 1900, the average life expectancy in the Western world varied between 35 and 40 years. In one century, it jumped 30 years. “Don’t be one of those who say ‘in my days, we did things differently. Learn that your time is today, the same time as composer and pop singer Justin Bieber,” says Karnal. Only like this will it be possible to participate and contribute to society.
“It is necessary to transcend material and age. For such, the path is autonomous faith, the studying of art and social work, for example. This conveys the idea of belonging to a greater plan – to not be stuck to the material, to the here and now.” According to the historian, we should never stop learning and reinventing ourselves.
Historians and old-age. Paul Lafargue (1842-1911), socialist, author of The Right to Be Lazy, wrote when committing suicide with his wife – with whom he had a death pact: “Healthy in body and mind, we are enjoying our lives before pitiless old age which has been depriving us of the pleasures and joys one after another which has been stripping us of our physical and mental powers, paralyses our energy and breaks our will, making us a burden to ourselves and to others. For some years we have promised ourselves not to live beyond 70, arid we fixed the exact year for our departure from life. I prepared the method for the execution of our resolution, it was a hypodermic of cyanide acid. We die with the supreme joy of being certain that in the near future the cause for which we devoted 45 years will triumph. Long live communism! Long-live international socialism!”. He wanted to die before the end.
Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, 42, says that children that will live until 120 years have already been born. Medical and technical conditions already exist to easily surpass 100 years. Harari asks: “How will we administrate marriages with 90-year anniversaries, which don’t even have a name yet? Our limit is Diamond Jubilee (60 years) and Oak (80 years)…”
Marco Túlio Cícero (63 a.C.), lawyer and philosopher, wrote that old age is the main phase of wisdom (at the time, between 50 and 60). As the symbol of philosophy, the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk. We lose physical force, but we gain awareness.
Sibila de Cumas (Greek mythology), known for her prophecies in verses, she asks god Apollo for eternal life, but forgets to include the wish of eternal youth. She lived forever and decayed. When she reached 900, in the Cave of Cuma, south of Rome, she was placed in a cage. She would tell those who entered “I want to die”. There is nothing melancholier than living eternally.
Ulysses Guimarães (1916-1992) when faced with the argument that he was too old to run for President of Brazil (in 1989-1990), he used to say that Nero set Rome on fire at age 27 and Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967), one of the architects of the market economy, saved Germany at age 83. In other words: age proves nothing.