On Stuffed Shirts and Pushy Squirts

Personal circumstances have given me occasion to think about the resentment that naturally festers between young men who are trying to get ahead and old men who are trying to hold on. To a young man, an elderly colleague appears as a creaky and long-winded valetudinarian, who dresses funny, probably doesn’t smell very nice at close quarters, and may be suspected of napping when his office door is closed.  To an old man, a youthful colleague appears as a brash and bumptious braggart, who dresses funny, probably doesn’t smell very nice at close quarters, and may be suspected of sexual improprieties when his office door is closed.

But intergenerational resentment runs deeper than this.  Old men resent the low value young men place on their wisdom; young men resent the low value old men place on their energy.  To the young man, the old man’s wisdom looks like the overpriced bric-a-brac one sees at a shabby roadside flea market.  It is advertised as valuable antiques, but is really nothing more than dingy rubbish that is one housecleaning away from the dump.

To the old man, the young man’s energy looks like a mix of self-promotion and folly, a sort of running in circles while elbowing others out of the way. He looks upon youthful energy in much the same way that a tired old dog looks upon the slobbering antics of a bouncing puppy.

And there is, of course, an even deeper layer of resentment.  The old man is on the threshold of oblivion and death.  He fears what lies beyond that door, and he resents anybody who tries to hustle him through it.  If the hustler is a young braggart with a funny haircut and designs on the old man’s office, that only makes matters worse.  No one resents pushy people more than a man with one foot in the grave.

The young man stands on the threshold of success, but his fear is not that he will pass through that door, but rather that he will not.  This is why he so deeply resents anybody who reminds him of unfulfilled promise and tumbledown dreams.  That wheezing buffer in the cardigan sweater is, in the young man’s eyes, a harrowing premonition—an insult, really, and an affront.  Little wonder he wishes him out of the way.

Intergenerational resentment is natural because the vanities and fears of youth are not the vanities and fears of age.  Being natural, this resentment is ineradicable, but its intensity fluctuates across a wide range.  Sometimes it sinks to the level of mutual amusement, or even pity; and sometimes it soars to the level of incandescent hatred.  Sometimes young men laugh at the funny old fellows, and sometimes they ardently wish all the old farts were dead.  Sometimes old men smile at the gangly greenhorns, and sometimes they wish the bounders had never been born.

Intergenerational hatred is just intergenerational resentment aggravated by circumstance. Personalities are obviously important, since a little bit of tact can cushion the generation gap and cut chaffing to a tolerable level.  But this is not a tactful age and we save our solicitude for people we have never met. Technological change greatly aggravates intergenerational resentment because it humiliates old men, feeds the vanity of youth, and destroys the advantages of knowledge and long experience.  Even if I have the good fortune not to lose my wits as I grow old, I am absolutely certain to undergo a sort of technological dementia as my mind is rendered obsolete.

But enough of this and back to work before those pushy squirts begin to think I’m napping!

11 thoughts on “On Stuffed Shirts and Pushy Squirts

  1. Pingback: On Stuffed Shirts and Pushy Squirts | @the_arv

  2. As sad as that portrayal is, how much more so for the older guy who is only too aware of his having misspent his own youth and vitality — had he not done so and for so long, perhaps he’d never have had to face this circumstance at all. That youngster is a reminder of this to the oldster — and nothing the latter attempts to share with the former from this perspective will resound satisfactorily for either. I’m reminded of an old saying on my mother’s German side ‘we grow too soon old, and too late smart.’

    • Words of warning are never welcome. I suppose a large part of the thrill of youth is thinking “I’m special and it couldn’t happen to me.”

      • Being middle age, I can relate. I was stupid and arrogant when I was young and I regret the stupidity and its consequences

        But I would trade all my current wisdom for my past stupidity if the deal brought me back my youth and especially the time wasted.

        And this is why the old man is more tragic than the young one. The young man has time to succeed, to fail and recover. The old man sees what he has lost and can never recover in the young man

      • You’re right. The old man knows what he no longer is, but the young man has no idea what he will one day become.

      • The desire to reclaim one’s youth is usually accompanied by the contradictory desire to carry back the hard-won wisdom of age. At its most degenerate, it is expressed as, “I wish I knew then what I know now about women!” I say, “Thank God I didn’t.” I made a big enough shambles of my life in my slowly dispelled ignorance and innocence of women.

        When I speculate on the recovery of youth, then, I can only imagine going back to a similar ignorance, my only advantage being a recovered physical vigour. I would have to surrender the vista that I can now dimly see from the height I have obtained after a long, damaging, bitter climb. No, thank you all the same.

  3. Pingback: On Stuffed Shirts and Pushy Squirts | Reaction Times

  4. It strikes me that every successful culture has a fair amount of technology around smoothing out these enmities so that the young can benefit from the wisdom of the old and the old can benefit from the energy of the young.
    Ours is not a successful culture.

  5. Nice post! I have tried to communicate these very thoughts before, but never as successfully as you have done in this post. So kudos!

    I will note here, as well, that this very process happens at a collective level as well as at the individual level. The “newcomers” as it were tend to take a generally hostile approach to the “blue bloods” or “old timers” and what they can learn from them in e.g., high school sports. Before you know it, a “perennial powerhouse” is a team who have been successful the last five years, and not a team that is relatively unsuccessful the last five years, but wildly successful the last forty. The phenomenon is interesting, but seems to make very little sense at times.

    • I ran track and cross country in high school and college. I was far from being a great runner, but I was unusually one of the best runners on those teams. Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention to the guys at the bottom of the roster. I didn’t snub them or put them down, but I could have done more to buck them up. It wouldn’t have made them better runners, but it would have been the right thing to do.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.