Wisdom Of The Elders.

Women's 100 m hurdles at the Atlanta Olympic Games
Women’s 100 m hurdles at the Atlanta Olympic Games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted December 20, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

“There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers… To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to so love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

One thing for certain in this life is that there is no turning back. A few years ago a movie starring Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button“, portrayed a man who aged backwards through time – a creative, clever film capturing the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unique vision. Probably the most outstanding result for viewers of the film was one’s reflection on their own life, and an increased focus on one’s finite nature. Films such as this are classified as “fantasy”, deserving of credit for making audiences think even though unrealistic tools and concepts are required.

Benjamin Button’s fantastic journey from old age to birth has a parallel in the concept of taking “personal inventory”, where one takes time to look back at the life lived up till now. A beneficial action which results in a greater focus on any anticipated actions moving forward – taking personal inventory allows one to investigate various options while thinking about how one compares to the others, with the greater chance of choosing favorably.

But alas, every man and woman experiences life’s inevitable pattern of adding the years, sometimes sitting in contemplation and feeling astonishment at how rapidly the years fly by. And as much as one would like to go back to the time of one’s greatest health and vitality, it is a wish that perhaps the writer of Benjamin Button was expressing, a fantasy we all have at times. Certain men and women, through their decisions to get enough sleep, water, and exercise, are able to stave off the effects of aging very effectively.

I’m reminded of a gentleman who received an “Espy Award” a few years ago. He received and was honored with an Espy Award, given to athletes who stood out as extraordinary but not well-known. This man was an Olympic athlete in his twenties who raced in the high hurdles. He was now 84 or so years old and still running the high hurdles. The program played some film of him running the 110 meters high hurdles race in senior track and field, Olympics type events.

I remember having one of those rare jaw-dropping moments while watching the clips. Here was a man of 84 years old, moving (and I mean moving) across that track, over those high hurdles, at a rate which would have allowed him to cross the finish line ahead of men half his age. The lesson of this 84-year-old high hurdler is that with discipline, the aging process need not be as problematic health-wise as many assume. This man spent time all through his 80 plus years using the same workout routines he used in his twenties, simply following a routine of stretching and running that resulted in a lifetime of excellent health and well-being.

So, if you’ve no resolutions for the new year stretching and exercise is a possibility.

Some elders, such as the fellow who runs the high hurdles, focus on staying physically fit. Other elders such as retired British politician Tony Benn focus on remaining mentally active. While watching a documentary titled “Ethos” on Link TV, hosted by the actor Woody Harrelson, Tony Benn was speaking in a few of the clips. As I tend to appreciate listening to elder men and women, because, in the spirit of the bank robber John Dillinger, “that’s where the wisdom is”, I went in search of words from Tony Benn.

I watched and listened to a seven minute address he gave to college students at the university he attended many decades before. He was 88 years old then, and he was speaking to the young men and women about their generation’s ability to bring about good changes through effort, conviction, and determination. Then I found the following video address made when he was 83 years old, where he displayed a greater passion and mental agility.

Tony Benn begins by speaking of the great importance of education and people becoming well-informed. He relays that if people knew what was really happening in the world around them, there would be big changes. He admits to his being in the golden years of his life by simply saying, “I’m old now”. Every generation is essentially fighting a perennial battle “again and again and again” – a battle that will never end, but evolves through history based on the actions of the human race.

He recalls reading Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, pointing out one passage where the words, “democracy inevitably leads to Marxism”, imply that Hitler did not want true democracy. Mr. Benn then proposes that there are three sources of wealth in the world: land, natural resources, and the people. Because of the great concentration of wealth in the hands of few, economic power has bubbled up and away from the people and resulted in 105 million lives being lost in the two world wars.

Tony Benn recalled his establishment of a public bank when he was Britain’s Postmaster General – a successful bank that became privatized by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He recalled also Ms. Thatcher’s actions which diminished the power of trade unions in Britain, making trade unions illegal in certain situations. One could compare his time in government while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain to Mr. Benn and Ms. Thatcher competing in the Olympics, standing next to each other at the starting line, placing their feet in the blocks, waiting for the starter’s gun to begin the race.

Both “political athletes” have thoughts on their reasons to “win” the race – Tony Benn’s motivators being “anger at injustice” and “hope you can build a better world” – Margaret Thatcher’s motives for the race are concentration of economic power and increase of profits through the privatization of essential services for the people.

If one tries to imagine the following address by 83 year old Tony Benn as his 110-meter high hurdles, Olympic Games race – after the starter’s gun sounds he is moving.

I mean really moving.


(Thanks to antitheist @ YouTube)

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