Old and Young and Old

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

I remember when I was a battalion intelligence officer in World War II, in Northern Italy.


We were passing through these little old towns. The houses weren’t big, but all the generations were there. The old weren’t put out to pasture. They were our best means of communication. They were what civilization is about: human history, work, generations. Old ones, grandparents, even great-​grandparents, talked to the little ones, and fascinated them. It was the oral tradition, generation after generation. Instead of watching television, the child listened to the old one, learning his history of dreams and wonder.

Our young haven’t lost their history, it was taken from them. We’ve stuffed them into a procrustean bed. Remember him? Procrustes? If the guest didn’t fit, he’d cut him or stretch him. That’s what we’re doing to our young, making them fit.

Here is a child, born with a sense of wonder, ready to admire and love what is seen and experienced. We say, “Watch it now, a little bit less, cool it, cool it,” until this extraordinary sense of wonder is reduced to nothing.


If the old person can’t listen anymore, he perpetuates the errors of his ancestors. You don’t need him. You need to say, “All right, Grandpa, when did you last change your mind about anything? When did you last get a new idea? Can I help you change your mind while you help me change mine?”

David Brower, as quoted by Studs Terkel in his book of oral history, Coming of Age