“The only thing worse than a fool is an old fool.” So goes a maxim that was easy to believe when I was younger—it didn’t apply to me. Not so these days—when the folly of older men seems to be front-and-center in the news. Yes, much of the stupidity of sexual predation can be blamed on genuine jerks. But some of these older fellows have also exhibited garden-variety foolhardiness: They’ve presumed that their pseudo-amorous behaviors pleased the women around them. That women found them still attractive, admirable and approachable. The out-of-touch-with-reality feelings of these guys allowed them to act impudently—as though their self-idolatries were acceptable.
It would be easy to relegate these older men to some nether world—as though they’re outliers in an otherwise-benign relational paradise. Not so. For perhaps too many of us old-timers, our base-line foolishness—about women, people younger than us, our own capabilities, the imagined regard of others—might describe more of our default thought processes than we can admit.
I hesitate to name old-guy stupidity only in other men, because it’s possible that these ways of thinking have also burrowed into my core. That’s where this matter gets tough: What might cause my lack of wisdom? Whom have I hurt? How can I keep flushing these attitudes and behaviors out of my soul?
One possible answer: Staying close to people who tell me the truth. People who love me enough to go beyond being only polite and complimentary. They might include spouses, close friends, my children or colleagues—many of them women with high integrity. A useful first step: Learning by listening. Another: Confessing my foolish sinfulness and asking for forgiveness.
Perhaps I can keep another maxim in mind: Being an old fool won’t contribute to the fullness of my years!
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