In the air Friday, April 27th 2012
"The eyes of others our prisons," wrote Virginia Woolf. How often are we so blinded by convention, clichés and other people's preconceptions that we put all our experience and knowledge into a "cage" from which not even the smallest signification is permitted to escape.
''The eyes of others our prisons [...]'' Virginia Woolf
Consider old people. Easy for me, as I am one. Setting age aside, let us then consider people who after a lifetime have achieved a certain situation, and who must now learn how to communicate with the next generations.
The very least we can hope from a lifetime of work is that it should bring experience, and that this experience forges "knowledge" which, ideally, goes beyond human and working relations to become wisdom. When we talk about tradition - and what better guardians of tradition than old people - we tend to forget that what is now "classic" was once innovative; something becomes a "classic" precisely because someone foresaw the strength of its concept, its values, and the potential for renewal it contained and which set new boundaries. This is why tradition and innovation are not opposites but rather two essential aspects of a single development. And this is also why old people aren't stick-in-the-muds but, in many instances, more open to change than a lot of young people who fear the unknown. Old people have lived through so much change that they know what its true implications are. Here we have step one in establishing a dialogue between old and young: to understand the value of experience and know how to build from it.
We stereotype the elderly as judging, more often than not criticising, the present and idealising the "good old days." I urge us all to combat this cliché and remember the blind prophet Tiresias. Old people might sometimes be more "blind" than the young, with regard to technology for example, but likely they have developed the ability to envisage future scenarios with far greater precision; a foremost quality when developing strategies.
Let me make myself clear: no one can claim to have complete command of the future nor to predict the means to guaranteed success. But it is wisdom that leads me to this conclusion, and which allows an element of doubt to cast its beneficial shadow on any decision. Wherever there is doubt there is reflection, difference of opinion, and dialogue whose value is more than intrinsic; it is also and above all the value we attribute to time, to experience and the taste we might develop for what we do and how we do it.
My friend Valéry Giscard d'Estaing once described luxury as the beautiful things we own and those around us which make life more pleasant and more lovely. I've always liked this definition because it lends a personal dimension to luxury that is based on experience. A dimension in which style and good taste are as important as possibilities; where experience teaches us that time passes but doesn't take away from what we have. On the contrary, just as it adds years, it fills us with words which in turn can lead to intuitions, differences of opinion and precious dialogue. And preciousness is of course a quality of luxury. ■