Donal’s thoughts from a recent interview -
What are some of the significant ways in which you’ve seen the world change in your lifetime (both positively and negatively)?
When I was a boy my world was very small. My experiences were limited to a small town surrounded by farms and ranches. I was ten years old before ever seeing a large city. There were a limited number of people in my world and fewer in the world at large. As time went on I was able to take more into my personal knowledge and experience. The world expanded, not just my experience of it but the world itself grew rapidly across the globe. What was knowable expanded and changed, and then changed again, and again, ad infinitum. It became less certain, it felt less stable, it felt less trustworthy in some ways. Then, to confuse things even more, the world seemed to get smaller again but not in the same way as when I was young. It became more tentatively comprehensible. It began to shrink given the greater level of access to information and there seemed to be less room --- a lot more people. Rather than the world being narrowed, it became filled with complexity. That complexity may have some features that are within themselves either positive or negative. However, the tools available to us are unlike any in history and will be used to continually form and reform our world as we individually and collectively see fit.
How has your worldview shifted over your lifetime? (may include views on relationships, friendships, education, career, spirituality etc.)
In my case, all of those things have shifted. They have all gone through migrations. My concepts, my worldview has changed dramatically since I was a young adult. My relationships have grown stronger and more productive and have become more significant to me. The relationships that I have felt were not contributing anything to my life or that were not being enhanced by my presence tended to drop away. The relationships that have deep meaning to me, I feel very compelled to contribute to. These relationships have become more succinct and consequently have much deeper roots than relationships when I was younger. The people in my life have changed to some degree because of my primary relationship, my wife. Even though my life in the past was significant, my life has developed a much deeper quality. Consequently, the relationship with her and the children have deeper meaning to me than I could ever explain. It’s not that other people are less significant than they were but that those relationships, by comparison, did not have the same depth to them.
My views of philosophy and education continue to change because I have taken in more knowledge of the world, of myself, and of people in general. I feel my formal education no longer keeps up with what my real education level is. I feel good about that. On a personal level, this feels more significant to me than what my formal education level represents.
Religion has been one of the greatest migrations of all, having been raised in a very narrow and confining religious perspective. I’ve escaped that over time, but it has taken the majority of my life to incorporate that dramatic shift on a personal level.
Although all of these things have changed, it may be that no one migration is more significant than another. They don’t seem to work in isolation. They each seem to contribute to the evolution of the other.
What would you like others to know about older adults?
People are not necessarily diminished by age. They are quite often expanded. I think there may be a general tendency to discount older people. That is the opposite way people who have aged would like to be treated. We often feel that younger people don’t really see us. It’s almost like we’re invisible. It doesn’t feel good to be discounted simply because of age, either direction. We may not be less viable, less intelligent, less productive, or less anything simply because of age. From our standpoint, we are more present to the world around us than ever before but viewed in the opposite way. Because of that, a lot of what we have to offer is not even taken into consideration. In that way, a lot gets missed by the larger population.
Looking back over your lifetime, what are the moments that stand out most to you?
The older I’ve gotten, I’ve been able to look back and see the arc of life. Another way of expressing that is to look back and see a thread that has run through the whole of my life that has a uniformity to it. That surprises me because as living goes day to day it feels disconnected. But, looking back it seems more uniform. Even when you experience the day to day, being aware of that thread becomes part of the meaning of life. You are more able to proceed knowing that there is some uniformity or even some purpose to it which may be found in that thread, that overall arc.
There are moments in history, external to my own, that are vivid in my memory and have served as transformative events both for myself and the world at large; the end of World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the 1960’s, the moon landing, the development of the Internet, and the present displacement of peoples from their homeland all over the world.
As you reflect on your interview responses, what would you like to add?
As you leave middle age behind and approach being older there is a point at which you realize you’re not just growing older, you’re actually old. There is a certain sadness to that but there is also a certain challenge as well. The challenge becomes one of intensity, things begin to matter greatly, probably more so than in any other stage in your life. It determines how you feel about the future and how you handle the future because there is less of it. Time becomes more precious. It sits heavier on your shoulder. It’s not heavy because it is unbearable, it is weighted because there is less of it. It becomes extremely important.
This is one of the things I thought about when I was younger, but I could put off taking it seriously because there was more time. It didn’t feel like it was so weighted. It becomes really incumbent on the person who is old to be careful not to become calloused or burdensome with that issue to the people who make up their world. It is very important to me personally that I don’t become weight, weight from the standpoint of being burdensome to my family or the people that I encounter every day. I don’t talk about some of the things that I think might be negative about the world that I see as it unfolds into the future. I don’t want my negativity, if there is any and sometimes there is, to be impactful to the hopefulness of the world as it unfolds into the future. I’d rather contribute something that is positive instead of becoming a grumpy old man who doesn’t see any good in the world, because that isn’t true. There is good in the world. Although there are problems, I don’t know that they are more fatal than what we’ve gone through in the past. They’re different problems. Although there may be challenges, the world has always changed. The progression of the world has always been driven by people who have vision and the courage (or foolishness) to act to bring about that which will be different.