The absurdity of aging
The common truism about old people is that they are invariably nostalgic about the “good old days” and that they all believe the world today is “going to hell in a handbasket.” It is perhaps understandable that some old people would miss their best years and feel somewhat baffled and impotent about a changing world they do not have as much of a hold on anymore. This can explain a certain sense of pessimism in many old people, but I also know enough old people who believe deeply in today’s youth and their ability to rectify some of our mistakes and do better than we did. I myself belong to neither group. I am anguished today by the direction humanity and our planet are going in, but I was just as anguished about this when I was an adolescent, and indeed throughout my life.
When I was young, I could never imagine myself as an old man. But here I am, approaching my mid-80s, and finding it rather amusing that I have reached this advanced age. In some ways I think I have been simultaneously old and young my whole life. I am as concerned today about the blind destruction we are wreaking on our planet and our environment as I have been about tribalism, blind ideologies and inequalities since my youth. Perhaps the object of distress evolves as events unfold, but it all still boils down to our lack of foresight as humans, our perplexing ability to close in on ourselves, rejecting the other and blaming our problems on outside forces. There are so many obstacles in our individual lives and for the human race that we must overcome to douse the fires of hatred and ignorance and see more tolerance, compromise and wisdom in the world.
Perhaps the object of distress evolves as events unfold, but it all still boils down to our lack of foresight as humans, our perplexing ability to close in on ourselves, rejecting the other and blaming our problems on outside forces
Hassan bin Youssef Yassin
The struggle within me is not about a form of disgust toward today’s world or toward other human beings — it is a struggle about the guilt we all share for not doing enough to live up to the great responsibility we bear to care for the life that has been bestowed upon our planet. I think of the air and the water that we have sullied, leading to more and more deaths and extinctions of once-vibrant life. I think of the amount of time and effort that we waste on petty arguments between conservatives and liberals or between cultures and ideologies, instead of realizing that as we busy ourselves with these petty arguments, we are irreversibly damaging the planet and the resources that give life not only to us but to a diversity of life condemned today by human cupidity and blindness.
As we get old, we realize that we only have a short amount of time left to enjoy our time on this planet alongside our family and friends. It is in this most important chapter of life that we are more prone to expressing regrets about what we did or did not do. One of the most difficult thoughts is that of not having transmitted the essence of what it means to be a human being who cares about others— no matter who they are or where they are from— and who cares enough about life on this planet to take meaningful actions to preserve and improve it. We try to shield our children and grandchildren from a world we do not trust, but this is a legacy of shame, recognizing that we leave behind more divisions and hatred than we have contributed to bringing down. That is the true pain of old age, that in our lifetime we have seen divisions grow between people instead of seeing them unite to save what is left of this wonderful planet of ours. The end is not in death, but in our continuous failure to save that which remains.
• Hassan bin Youssef Yassin worked closely with Saudi petroleum ministers Abdullah Tariki and Ahmed Zaki Yamani from 1959 to 1967. He headed the Saudi Information Ofﬁce in Washington from 1972 to 1981, and served with the Arab League observer delegation to the UN from 1981 to 1983.