So. My niece is finally happy with us.
Yeah, she figured out we only wanted what is best for her.
What? Don’t give me that look.
You asked. Just what sort of “best” did you try and impose on her? Just what is best?
How the heck do I know what is best for her? We just wish her the best and try to be supportive. She has to figure the rest out for herself.
Ok. What is with it with that look you are giving me?
She didn’t figure out you want “the best” for her. She figured out you weren’t going to try to impose something on her.
What kind of fool would do that?
Darn it. You are giving me that look again.
How many times has someone told you that they wanted what was best for you but…
- It was really just what was best for them?
- They were just trying to impose a solution on you that wouldn’t work for you?
- They are just trying to sell you something?
- They just wanted you to accept their approach regardless of what it was?
- They really admitted they didn’t know what “the best” was?
What are your thoughts when someone says they only want “the best” for you?
This is a fantastic post. That really is the question: Who knows best?
The irrefutable fact is that there is a wisdom and an understanding of life that comes with age. Older people have seen what comes of those who make certain choices, and they have learned a great deal from observing the mistakes of others.
Young people, like the frightening looking young woman in the photograph, simply do not have the perspective to know what is best. They would settle for a life of hanging out at honk-tonks, Dairy Queen’s and 7-Elevens if they could. They cannot see what comes of that kind of lifestyle.
So yes, Mr Marsh, young people can be confident that trusted older adults really do have their best interests in mind. It would save them a great deal of heartache to realize this.
The irony with JCS’s comment is that only old people would think hanging out at honky-tonks, DQ and 7-11 is still considered cool.
“I want what’s best for you” generally means “I know better than you do what’s best for you, so you’re just going to need to trust me that this thing that seems bad to you is actually good and go ahead and do it.” A friendlier version of “because I said so.”
It’s funny you mention this because there is currently some awful blog post making the rounds about how not supporting gay marriage is how we can do best by our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because gay marriage is bad for them in the eternal scheme of things. Heaven forbid we just let them do what they think is best for themselves.
@JCS I don’t deny there is a lot of wisdom we can get from people with life experience we don’t have (although I’d suggest that age is only one such experience – younger people who have experienced different things than we have can also teach us). But I think it’s one thing to help someone identify his/her values and goals and then give advice for actions that will help them achieve those goals vs trying to define those values and goals *for* them, shoving that down their throats, and refusing to support them if they disagree.
The former is great. The latter is condescending, paternalistic, and ultimately destructive to relationships.
Several of the finest moments of my life have occurred in honkytonks, Dairy Queens and 7-Elevens. Wish I could say the same thing about sacrament meetings.
50% of under 40 year old members voted for trump; 80% of over 40s voted trump, so no older members didn’t know best on this occasion. I suspect those same people are the sexists, and homophobes. There are the 20%.
The only way you can *know* that someone is really acting in your best interests is when it is against their own interest. If it’s also in their own best interest (or in many cases–primarily in their own best interest) then their claim that it’s in your best interest is clearly suspect.
For example, when Pres. Benson told the women of the Church to come home and leave the workforce, my immediate thought was “Who’s paying my mortgage? Who’s writing the checks?” (Protip: it wasn’t the Church). If the Church isn’t the source of my financial security, then the person who is gets to make decisions that affect that is me! What does the Church get if I don’t have a career? Several things, potentially: more kids being raised in the Church by a person who is dependent on patriarchy to survive, more women being motivated by maternal guilt, and more free (women’s) labor to run Church programs. From the Church’s perspective, the only downside is lower tithing revenue, and as we’ve all seen, that’s not an issue.
Older Generations who think they have all the answers: I’ve seen a lot and know what is best for each and every rising generation younger than I. I’m the wise one because I’m seasoned and I’ve seen a lot.
Also Older Generations who think they have all the answers: My parents and grandparents were so out of touch, they thought Elvis Presley’s music and dancing style was dangerous and of the devil. They also thought the Beatles music was trash, of the Devil, and destroyed my record collection. Beatles music is now considered greatest rock music ever, especially compared to that trash my kids listen to, can’t even call it music.
Also Older (conservative) Generations (though not all) who think they have all the answers: the Corona Virus is a hoax, I don’t need to get the vaccine, those scientists and doctors don’t know what they are talking about. Subsequently gets sick, but doesn’t get tested because it’s a hoax right? Visits close conservative older generation friend who is also not vaccinated because its a hoax, friend gets sick, goes to hospital, confirmed COVID case and friend dies. Now realizes consequence for lack of action and feels remorse. (This is a real example that played out over the last 2 weeks. Yes, I’m still outraged over the wonton irresponsibility and utter disregard for healthcare science and the wellbeing of others.)
The tendency for each generation is to view the following generations (or others in their own generation) and their tastes and behaviors with disdain, mistrust, and ridicule. We also each have a tendency to think we have all the answers and know what is best. Most of our differences are simple differences in tastes, but in our hubris, we view them as major aberrations from the “right” way. The fact is that learning stops when we think we have the answers. Each generation and every person has some value to add, but just because you’re from an older or different generation doesn’t automatically mean you have the right answers and can force them on others.
Loved Elisa’s and Angela C’s comments.
“What does the Church get if I don’t have a career? Several things, potentially…[including] more free (women’s) labor to run Church programs.”
It’s not in the print version but when Ezra Benson delivered the address to mothers in the church (really all women in the church) he specifically mentioned that even when children were older it was better for the mothers not to work because the church needed their service. He was direct about that but this part did not make it into the print version (and the added guidance that women not work when their children were older also did not make it into the print version). But it was never clarified, so those who heard it were left with the impression that this was prophetic guidance they were expected to follow.
Women give large amounts of uncompensated labor to the church, but when I’ve seen women outlive their savings I haven’t seen the church step in to help out at anything more than a cursory level, no matter how faithful the woman and no matter how much free labor they gave to the institution. Women need to recognize the real financial needs they will have in their old age and plan accordingly.
Thank you, Stephen Marsh, for a well written and thoughtful post. Thank you for inspiring me to think on this topic.
I wish we could all refrain from focusing on JCS’s comments. His comments, unfortunately, too often detract from meaningful discussions and too rarely add anything of substance to these discussions.
How many times has someone told you that they wanted what was best for you but…
People used to do it about once a month on the last Sunday of the month but in the last few years people have backed off a little and only done it about once a quarter on the last Sunday of the quarter.
Lost a decade of my life and tens of thousands of dollars in multiple degree programs suggested by family who knew what was best for me. I’ll never get the time or money back. Have since lectured all my younger relatives that provided they’re not seeking out harmful behavior, they do in fact kno what is best for their own selves.
I’m probably raising a couple of hippies now since I’m always telling my kids to follow their hearts and do what they’re best at, but hey, they’ll be mighty happy hippies. (Or they’ll rebel and become doctors. I like both outcomes.)
My 11yo daughter skillfully and mercilessly dissects empty primary lessons about blind obedience to authority — I’d worry more but she has demonstrated such a strong moral center of kindness and empathy completely external to church that I think she often does know what’s best for herself. Even if I have to yell about putting dishes in the sink now and then.
I see how you try to slide the Talking Heads into a post seemingly written by an old Mormon curmudgeon, Brother Spring. Well played.
What a lot of older people say is best for younger people is often what might have been best for previous generations but is now, for whatever reason, unattainable or ill-fitting for the next generation. As an example, think of financial advice. Certainly older folks remember a time when you could get a double digit interest rate on a savings deposit. Today, you’re lucky if you get half a percentage. It would make no sense to tell a younger person to pour their life savings into a normal savings account. Or job searching. I’ve gotten the advice before that I just need to “hit the pavement” or cold call to find a job, when that just isn’t how it works anymore. What was the right move for one generation isn’t necessarily right for the next, so I think everyone should have some awareness of this when they are in a position to give advice to a younger person.
Matthew, I wish I could like your comment several times. Mothers staying home with children might have been a good thing back in the 50s, but it just isn’t possible for the average family any more. The advice we were told when we first married about what percent of income should go to a home, would be a joke in today’s housing market. You couldn’t find a tent on a chunk of land for that price. We were told not to borrow for college, but to work part time and pay as you go. But now not borrowing would be work full time, and take one class a semester and graduate about the time you want to retire. Things have just changed, and the advice we were given by our parents who were parents in the 50s is certainly not good advice for our children and grandchildren. It wasn’t really good advice for us by the 70s and 80s.
So, any lunkhead who thinks he has experience that he can tell young people what they should do is living in fantasy land. JCS, I’m looking at you.
Would you rather put a critical decision in the hands of a 50 year old or a 18 year old? JCS is right on this one.
As I think about the nature of missionary work—and also all the rhetoric from the GC pulpit about “member missionary work”—it occurs to me we are literally encouraged, trained, and even called to go forth into the world giving unsolicited advice to our neighbors. This is all fueled by the idea that we know what is best for them. Those poor souls languishing in The World without the truth. They need what we have.
Faith crisis was a horrible experience but one byproduct of it that I’m particularly grateful for is that I was able to finally reject the idea that every stranger on the bus is just waiting for me to share the gospel with them. Nowadays I’m inclined to think most of the people around me have their life figured out better than I do.
Let me go out on a limb here and agree with JCS that age does bring wisdom — to some people, on some topics, some of the time. Good parents get a sense of when they should share some of that wisdom with their kids (not too often or they’ll just quit listening). Good adults get a sense of when they should share their wisdom with others who aren’t their kids (very rarely). You have to let kids learn some of their own lessons, when it’s not the sort of circumstance where there health or safety is at risk.
The big question here seems to be: How does the Church play into this? It certainly seems the case that active Mormons are trained to think they know what’s best for their kids and everyone else. Double that for local leaders. So fewer Mormon adults have that sense of discretion about when to share advice or counsel that most other non-LDS adults have. Which probably makes Mormon parents and Mormon adults in general more annoying than the average adult. We score pretty high on the Annoyance Index. We try to mask this with lots of talk about service (Helping Hands!) and families (We love our children! Families are forever!). I don’t think that fools the average non-LDS. They have a pretty good read on how annoying Mormons are. Mormons, on the other hand, have little clue about how annoying Mormons are.
Though I am reminded of the twelfth step from twelve step groups or other support groups.
A lot of these debates around who should make decisions, giving advice or even forcing certain decisions on young people center around competence. How often do we hear brain studies being used to take away autonomy from teenagers? Yes, teenagers make dumb decisions, but so can adults. Either way, I think competence or psychological development is the wrong framework. As mentioned above, teens need room to make decisions for themselves and fail within reason. Teens have rights too. So even if a 50-year-old knows better than a teenager, it doesn’t always matter.
A few thoughts on the debate between who is better equipped to make decisions, teens or older folks, it has to depend on what decision it is, and it also depends on the person. Being 10 years older may mean you’ve got 10 more years of experience, or that you’ve had one year of experience over and over without learning from it.
Being a teen may mean your brain is not yet fully developed, you think you’re immortal, and you don’t know how you will feel at later phases of life. Those are blind spots. But how did the older person gain wisdom? Through experience, through their own *foolish* experiences. You can’t teach through didactic lectures and parental control; at some point we have to trust people to make their own choices and live with them. That’s what it means to be human. Sometimes people have to make their own mistakes in life. As a wise person once said “Experience is a great university, but the tuition is high.” So it is, but it’s still the best education. Forcing other people to do what you think is best only creates resentment and prevents any personal growth or learning on their part.
Plus old people also have serious blind spots. In the Church they are often downplayed in the interest of supporting a gerontocratic leadership and unqualified deference to parents, to everyone’s peril. To paraphrase L.P. Hartley “The past is a foreign country, and old people still live there.” Have you visited old people? Their houses and wardrobes are literally a time capsule. What makes anyone think their thinking didn’t also stop in that bygone decade they inhabit daily? My daughter thinks the 80s are a fun dress-up for a vintage party (no, we didn’t generally wear neon pink leg warmers everywhere!), but have you seen my playlist? On some level, part of my brain still lives there. As comedian Todd Glass put it, “You wouldn’t let your parents choose a pair of jeans for you, so why would you trust them on something really important like religion?”
DTHamilton said, “Also Older Generations who think they have all the answers: My parents and grandparents were so out of touch, they thought Elvis Presley’s music and dancing style was dangerous and of the devil. They also thought the Beatles music was trash, of the Devil, and destroyed my record collection. Beatles music is now considered greatest rock music ever, especially compared to that trash my kids listen to, can’t even call it music.”
I actually agree with your overall post, but depending on how you see today’s world, the older generation could have been “right.” Since Elvis we have had increased civil rights, gay rights, trans rights, the Summer of Love, easy access to pornography, clothing styles are very casual, out of wedlock sex is the norm and it all started with Elvis. 🙂
Some of the comments on this post and blog are troubling. They stereotype “old” people. I’m 76 and few of the traits apply to me (although my children and grandchildren may have another opinion).
The problem with individual members of the Q15 is not they are old. It is they are all old. No diversity, with apologies to Elder Gong. They are old, white, male, and mostly conservative. They don’t demographically represent the membership of the Church. This is a critical problem.
@rogerdhansen: “The problem with individual members of the Q15 is not they are old. It is they are all old.”
God gave us different backgrounds and experiences for a reason. Our non-diverse leadership is not leveraging that.
“Would you rather put a critical decision in the hands of a 50 year old or a 18 year old? ”
It depends on the critical decisions that need to be made. Some decisions are best made by younger people with fluid intelligence, others by older people with more crystalized intelligence. And some decisions need to be made by the people most affected by the decision, no matter their maturity.
When decision makers hold to discredited ideas it will negatively impact the decisions they make.
As rogerdhansen and Elisa point out, decisions regarding a group are best made by a diverse group who can consider the varying needs of the group members both individually and collectively.
I believe that at its core, Stephen’s OP is about the right to self determination.
Link to a short summary:
Self determination is quite the opposite of infantilization.
Effective guardians/leaders provide support and encouragement, education and opportunities.
(In my view, JCS’ use of absolutes belies the seeming straightforwardness of his/her statements, thus drawing attention to the absurdity of some of the stances that (s)he purports to espouse.)
(With JCS, is it often Opposite Day?)
“Experience is a dear teacher. A fool will learn by no other.” – Benjamin Franklin
Learn from those who have gone before you!
Observer, I think the issue is that some people confuse years lived for experience. Just because you’ve lived x amount of years =/= x amount of experience. Some people think that years of experience in one area translates to a completely unrelated area.