Opinion, by Jack Woodall
RIO DE JANEIRO – You might think that as people grow older, they should become more tolerant. After all, they’ve been there, done that, and nothing should ever surprise them. But after reaching the age euphemistically known as “senior”, I find I am no longer inclined to suffer fools gladly – and that the number of fools seems to have increased lately.
This applies particularly to politicians, whether local or in our home countries, although intolerance in respect of that lot seems to be pretty universal, regardless of age. Not that our outspoken complaints about political corruption do the least bit of good, as we don’t seem to be able to do anything about it — other than not vote, which doesn’t actually achieve anything.
So why do we become intolerant as we get older? Is it because we are disappointed at seeing the youth of today making the same mistakes we made when we were young? Adopting the ideology du jour, ignoring the sad fact that it was historically a crashing failure; experimenting with dangerous drugs far more potent than those available in our time; always trying to reach the unreachable star, which we know from bitter experience is absolutely unattainable?
Why do we become irritated with a friend when they ask us to repeat what we’ve just said, knowing full well that our own failing hearing forces us to ask them to repeat themselves just as much? (Now where did I put that danged hearing aid?) We get irritated with ourselves when we need glasses to find our glasses, only to find that they are on the top of our head.
Darwin showed us that there must be some evolutionary benefit to our behavior, as well as to our anatomy. But whatever the original advantage of increasing intolerance with age was to the survival of the fittest, we have manifestly outlived it. Just as we have outgrown our omnivorous diet, containing lots of animal protein and fat, necessary to fuel our primitive ancestors who spent their time rushing around hunting deer and elephants, whereas now we only exercise when we feel like it, if at all.
Though why pygmies should ever have thought it a bright idea to risk their lives to kill an elephant beats me, when there was plenty of smaller, less dangerous, game like monkeys around. Before the tribe could have gorged on even half of it, while commemorating the death of one or two of their mighty hunters in the chase, the elephant carcass would have gone rotten in the tropical heat.
Mammoth hunting, on the other hand, was, to coin a phrase, quite a different kettle of fish. The beast was instantly frozen, and kept fresh enough to eat even when mislaid by the tribe (how do you mislay a mammoth?) and discovered thousands of years later by Arctic explorers.
In any case, wouldn’t it be best for the human race if intolerance were bred out of it, including racial, religious, class and all other kinds of intolerance? Whatever purpose it served in past millennia, intolerance is now well past its sell-by date. After the Age of Aquarius, let’s all do our bit to hasten the Dawning of the Age of Tolerance — as well as trying to reduce the intolerance of age.
Jack Woodall PhD was a visiting biomedical research professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) before he retired, and is now Editor of the Rio English language monthly The Umbrella and Associate Editor of ProMED, the only free online source of professionally commentated news of outbreaks of infectious disease worldwide.