Is age associated with wisdom, or with a cantankerous manner? In some societies and families, older people are highly respected, in others they are regarded as a liability. This picture of elderly people around the world opens a fascinating series of possibilities, from the psychology of personality to ancestor worship.
Ages and stages
Complete the sentence "Old people are . . ." What sort of words and phrases do children use: are they positive or negative? What older people do you know (grandparents, neighbours)? What do you know about the times they have lived through (wars, unemployment, prosperity, quieter lifestyle)? Work out your own stages for the human life cycle. How many do you get and what are they (Shakespeare's seven ages; the commonly used four ages: childhood and education; work; retirement; infirmity)?
Look at the pictures and make guesses about the people's personality. Are they happy, sad, wise, tired, despairing, reflective, good humoured? How do you know, and how confident are you that you're right? What does "personality" mean to you? Think of commonly used opposites (extrovert introvert, organised slipshod, reliableunreliable, toughsensitive, confidentinsecure, dependent independent, friendlyaloof). What are you?
These people come from all over the world, so how different do you think their lifestyles are?What can you tell from the pictures (customs such as neck bracelets, smoking, clothing, bearded or clean-shaven men, hot or cold climate)? Choose one person that you would most like to talk to. Why did you choose that one? What would you talk about?
(a) You meet one of the people in the picture. Report your conversation about their life and background. (b) Write speech bubbles (kind, not cruel) for some of the pictures.
TED'S TALKING POINTS
Children and old people oftenhave an affinity. But do age andwisdom increase together, orare older people stuck in abygone age?
Older people are wiser as they have been around longer, seen and done more. We can learn a lot from their successes and mistakes, which is why some societies revere old age. Times used to be hard - clothes scrubbed by hand, no technology, wars, unemployment - and old people had to be resourceful to survive, so we should respect their experience and views.
Age doesn't guarantee wisdom. The old are as different as the young. They may be rooted in the past, defending practices that are no longer necessary, like mending something when it would be cheaper to buy a brand new one. They don't always understand what is happening today: few can handle computers, for example, so they may condemn anything novel. Society moves much faster now. They are out of touch.