I just wanted to know – do people become more intolerant with age? I was raised in a pretty liberal, progressive household, and have tried to treat people around me with as much sensitivity and kindness as possible, irrespective of gender, creed or social status. Recently, however, whenever I visit my parents, I have noticed them saying the most racist things, being cold and insulting towards service staff when we go outside. I’m seeing a side to them that I didn’t think existed. In your expert opinion, is this a passing phase, or should I brace for the worst?
While I’m not an expert on bigoted old people, my insight into human behaviour leads me to believe that people don’t change that much in their lifetime, at least not for the worse. While it is not entirely unheard of for narrow-minded people to broaden their perspective and “see the light” on occasion, it is less common for broad-minded people to become less so over time. In other words, your parents have not suddenly become racist and intolerant, they have probably always been so. It’s possible that you were too busy experiencing adolescent angst or some other existentialist crisis to notice, or maybe it just suited your self-image to believe that your parents were liberal and progressive. Maybe as you got older and became more progressive in your worldly outlook, you merely became more aware of others’ shortcomings in that regard. A third option is that your parents have cast off all pretences in their old age and have just embraced their bigotry in all its glory. Whatever the case may be, you should prepare yourself for all sorts of old-age nastiness to come. Senescence carries enough burdens of its own for your parents to be concerned with trivialities such as political correctness and other peoples’ feelings.
I’ve heard other mothers complain about their children being ungrateful, but I never thought I’d see the day when my own daughter turned against me. After she went abroad to study, I decided to give her room a much-needed makeover. I did away with her big, bulky bookshelf for a slimmer one that takes up less space, and threw out a lot of useless junk she had been hoarding. I thought she would be pleased, but boy was I wrong. When she came back, the way she reacted, you would have thought I had murdered her first-born. After throwing a tantrum about how selfish and inconsiderate I was for not respecting her “life’s work”, she has stopped talking to me. Any advice?
Dear Utterly Clueless,
Like most well-meaning but clueless mothers, you apparently have no idea who your child is and what makes her happy. While a ‘make-over’ is probably what you spent the better part of her teen years fantasizing about, it is something you should have consulted with her on. That ‘useless junk’ that you so callously refer to was probably precious to her: journals filled with diatribes against her heartless, materialistic parents; an Amar Chitra Katha comic collection, culled over a lifetime; love notes from her Class 2 fling. Perhaps she had a sizeable collection of food pornography hidden amongst her textbooks, or – more likely – prized sketches of the native cockroach population. Whatever the case, you are unlikely to ever know since you have utterly violated her trust by ransacking her personal domain. Her sanctuary, the one room in the house free from your probing gaze and unfettered interrogation, has been defiled, and her ‘life’s work’ carelessly tossed asunder. So, instead of righteous indignation, you should instead try a bit of grovelling to win back your daughter’s affections. Failing that, send the minions off to root around in the nearest garbage dump in hopes that your offspring’s possessions aren’t presently adorning the walls of a neighbourhood slum.