Seniors of ’79 – It’s time to shine!

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Seniors of ’79 – We are old, and we need to start acting our age! I’m not talking about watching our cholesterol and doing our stretches. Ha! We’re not THAT old! (Are we? Wait…)  I’m talking about acting our age when it comes to politics. 

We may have a tough time figuring out whether to slide or tap our credit cards, or how to summon up the perfect emoji to round out a text, but there are a few things we could be teaching the kids (and by “kids” I mean everyone under about 40) about how to live in a democracy…if only we would. 

We are old enough to know better when it comes to all the fussing and fighting on social media and elsewhere.  We need to use what we have learned in our long lives to model a better way.

Here is just a little of what I know we have to offer…

1. We are old enough to know better than to get worked up because “They are lying!”  – We are old enough to know that all politicians “lie” to us.  Or maybe a better way to say it is they tell us what they think we want to hear.  If they think we want to hear “no new taxes” – that’s what they will tell us, even if they know good and well that new taxes are on the way. If they think we want to hear “I’ll bring back the jobs” — that’s what they will tell us, even if they know good and well those jobs are never coming back.  If they think we want to hear “Medicare for all” — that’s what they will tell us, even though they know good and well they will not be able to get that through congress.  They will promise us free ponies if that’s what it takes to get our votes.  We are old enough to know better than to pretend that it is only one side or the other that is “lying.” Both sides do it; all politicians do it. It is how the game is played. They have to do it because if they don’t do it, we don’t vote for them. We old folks need to be teaching the young’uns that it’s fine to enjoy the show, but they will be in for a lifetime of disappointment if they get their hearts set on the free ponies.

2. We are old enough to know nobody is perfect every damn minute of their life.  – Who among us would never look tired, or dumb, or like we had cut our hair with the lawnmower if someone were following us around every minute of the day with a camera?  Who among us has never blanked out on a name, or mispronounced a word, or stumbled when we were walking up the steps?  Good grief I have called my husband by my dog’s name and vice versa more than once when I was aggravated!  And don’t tell me you haven’t done the same.

Today’s media makes it easy to put our leaders’ worst moments on endless replay.   But we are old enough to know that if we eliminated every potential leader who had hair dye dribbling down the side of his face, or who forgot how to spell the plural of potato, or who wears “mom pants,” or who says a cuss word when he forgets the mic is on — we would not have anyone left to lead us.   So, yes, let’s model some good-natured teasing when one of our very human leaders makes a very human faux pas (see…old people know fancy words!), but then let’s model letting that go and making our decisions based substantive issues.  We are old enough to know that we would rather have someone with spinach in their teeth and good ideas than the other way around.

3. We are old enough to know that yelling at people does not make them change their minds. – Yes, there’s a time and a place for yelling – it’s mainly for helping other people, who already agree with you, find you.   Yelling is not useful for actually getting anything done.  We are old enough to know that when you yell at someone, they are more likely to shut their mind tight as a jar lid than they are to listen to anything you have to say. When you want to get something done, you have to listen some and talk some.  It has taken some of us a long time to learn this.  We should demonstrate it to the younger folks so that it does not take them as long to learn.

4.  We are old enough to know we are better off NOT getting our own way all the time.  – This is probably the biggest open secret of democracy, and we need to let the younger generations in on the secret.  We talk like we want our side to get its way all the time, but we don’t really want that.  We want the other side to fight back and win sometimes.  We want to wrestle back and forth. That’s how we test and strengthen our ideas before we put them into practice. That’s how we fix things that didn’t work as well as we thought they would.  I can speak grandly (or grandiosely) about my ideas, because I know there is someone on the other side who will question them and demand some practicality.  We pretend the “other side” is the enemy – but we are old enough to know that they are not.   We are one team that is split into two so that we can scrimmage with each other.  When the scrimmage is over, we say thank you to each other for playing hard and making the whole team stronger.  We are old enough to know how to play hard and then shake hands.  We need to make sure we are passing that – and not the fine art of being a sore loser —  on to the next generation.

5. We are old enough to know that there is more to people than their politics. – In the olden days, there was no such thing as Facebook (or whatever the social media of choice is today). Most of us didn’t even know the politics of the people around us.  Politics didn’t usually come up until we already had a relationship built on work and sports and music and food and gardening and kids and dogs and movies and about a jillion other things.  By the time we talked about politics we already knew each other as complicated people. We were already connected by many strands, so if the politics strand broke, we were still connected.    

When you have that kind of connection, you are not as quick to think of someone as a snowflake, or an idiot; or a greedy, heartless, jerk.  Having those richer connections — understanding each other as multi-dimensional, complicated people –makes it possible to be kinder to each other — more curious and less condemning of each other’s politics.

Now, thanks to our technology, we often know each other’s political leanings before we know much else about each other. With only that one strand of connection, it’s easy to forget that there is more to us than our politics.  We older folks need to be modeling how to make multiple strands of connection, how to treat each other like the complicated people we know each other to be.  We need to crusade against treating each other like one-dimensional political cardboard cut-outs set up for target practice.  We know there is a better way.

6. We are old enough to know that good campaigning and good governing are not the same thing.   – Problems are easy to solve when you are looking at them from a distance.  When you get up close and start actually working on them, they are much more complicated. There is usually more gray than black and white combined.  There’s a reason why we haven’t solved homelessness or figured out the best way to keep from shooting each other so much – those problems are hard to solve. Maybe we have to try some of this and some of that – some things that you don’t like and some things that I don’t like.   In fact, maybe we can’t “solve” these problems.  Maybe the best we can do is get a little bit better, and then a little bit better – but never really completely fixed.    The problem is that all this bit by bit, complicated, gray area work is boring, boring, boring.  It is not inspiring to say, “We probably can’t solve this – but we might be able to make it a little better if we work at it really hard and oh, by the way, spend some money.” Very often the truth cannot be easily summarized in sound bites or bumper stickers or memes.   We have a political system where campaigns run on snappy, memorable over-simplifications – but actual progress runs on patience, detail, and compromise.  We can make that work – we have made that work for a long time – as long as we clearly understand that campaigning and governing are not the same thing.  Campaigns are fun and exciting, but then it’s time to get to work.  You have to be a little bit mature to understand that.  We older folks should be mature enough to understand, and we need to behave like we do.

7. We are old enough to know that it is probably not the end of the world if the other side wins. – At least it hasn’t been so far! Ha!

Along with that senior discount comes extra responsibility!  We are too old to be throwing kindling on the fire and adding to the destruction.  

We are old enough to know better about so many things when it comes to running our democracy together.  America needs us to act our age.  It is our time to be the ones with the cool heads, the ones willing to listen for the sake of figuring out a way forward. We have been around long enough to have a little perspective, a little wisdom.  We should be showing these younger folks how to live and work together even when we disagree, even when we don’t always get our way.

If we don’t, I hope to God they figure it out without us.  


  1. vanya martin on April 3, 2023 at 10:22 pm

    Can I get this on a cross-stitch? It is what we need to hear.

  2. Elaine White on April 4, 2023 at 6:49 am

    I especially like #5.

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