Saturday, April 3, 2021

23. Stay Open, Remain Curious

Some of the worst stereotypes about aging is that it will automatically lead to condemning judgements, a tendency to say "no" to life's opportunities and adventures, and an overall lack of curiosity or interest in learning new things.  Although I can see some of my peers shutting down to new ideas, and passing morally superior generalizations against "millennials" and "Gen Zers" I'd say these are people who have generally been more risk adverse, rigid minded, limited in their thinking skills, and uninterested in taking time to understand the validity of different racial and generational experiences.  Getting older only solidifies the traits that were already there. 

There has persistently been a perception of a cultural divide between age spans in popular forms of entertainment. From the tropes I saw play out in the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" to "Rebel Without A Cause," from "The Graduate," to Will Smith's, "Parents Just Don't Understand," to every John Hughes movie ever made, there has always been a generational line in the sand that has dictated, "misunderstood youth here...lame old people there."

In real life, I have found humans to be much more complex. The older people in my family were mostly open minded, curious, and interested in learning about the different music and fashion trends I was following as a teenager. They may not have enjoyed the latest Prince or Pat Benatar singles, but they took the time to understand why I enjoyed them. I learned from role models like my Aunt Florrie that later years can be a time when one learns new skills, embraces life challenges, and opens up to learning more about people and human experiences. 

This to me is a much healthier approach to aging.  If we shut ourselves down to new experiences, fresh voices, new artistic expressions, then we lose out on so much enjoyment and connecting with other people. 

Last week as I was writing about "Consequences Not Cancellations," I saw a huge swell of dialogue related to the new video from Lil Nas X called,  "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)."   When I first saw it, I honestly didn't get it.  So I checked myself.  I watched it again. And again.  I sought to understand:  Do I know what the artist is trying to express? Is there something that I can learn from his message? What is he teaching me about his world?  If I don't understand it, can I read something from someone who does? Is this person saying something that can enhance and improve my insights in some way?

Ultimately from Little Nas X's interviews, and responses on Twitter, I came to appreciate and admire his messages on a much deeper level.  He is using vibrant symbolism to defiantly (and humorously) confront religious homophobia and persecution, while simultaneously celebrating Black queerness, gender fluidity, and a good ol' fashioned romp-with-the-Devil.  I have seen criticisms and condemnations fly from parents, homophobes, religious leaders, a state governor, and basically anyone who doesn't respect the idea of a proud Black man using his art to take back control of his spiritual and sexual power.   

I'm grateful to Lil Nas X for putting this Work out there, I'm grateful that social media provides an outlet for artists and experts to share intelligent and constructive perspectives so quickly, and I'm grateful I took the time to stay curious and sought to understand the human emotions expressed in this message.  By doing so I feel like I'm enriched by learning about the very personal struggles of this 21-year-old Black gay man, as well as his take on reclaiming an innocence that had been stolen from him.

At any chronological age we can decide to shut our minds and hearts down to new narratives or creative statements, as the prototypical "old person" does in the aforementioned movies and videos. But doing so also shuts down a plethora of potential joy, fun, and learning.  We can demonstrate sensitivity, empathy, and intentional learning at any given moment. 

I am starting my fiftieth decade more fascinated than ever by expressions and experiences of younger people who have had to navigate the world in such a different way than I ever did.  There is still so much l don't know about human struggles, and the more I learn, the more I learn, the less I know.  Staying open and remaining curious allows me to grow, connect, and engage in a way that is far more rewarding and exciting than the cultural expectations of being shut down as one ages.  

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707

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