The (un)importance of age

Age is not as important as you think, there are tons of examples!

I have to admit that this is a rather unusual theme to write about; but as I found myself more than once confronted with my age, I started to think a bit more about the (un)importance of age.

I bet every one of us heard it before: “You are too young for this” or “When you’re older you’ll understand that”. But also sentences like: “Are you not a bit old for that?” or “I did not expect that from a person your age” is really common. I myself assume, during my work as a tour guide, that old people are not capable of doing certain things (e.g. walking too much or climbing too many stairs). Of course, there’s a reason: we have a certain presumption of age and most of the time we are right; it is hard to find a 7-year-old who will know exactly how the theory of relativity works, as it is hard to find a 90-year-old who can run a marathon.

However, we underestimate people so often. There are tons of experiences that prove that age is a social construct. There is no actual proof that age makes you wiser or more experienced. There are so many seniors, who still haven’t learned anything and are completely ignorant. Isn’t Donald Trump a good example that even if you are old, people might have strange ideas? On the other hand, you have young people like Malala Yousafzai, by far the youngest Noble Prize laureate. Not even twenty yet, she became one of the most famous female activists and women’s rights supporters.

Then you have people like Mark Zuckerberg who at 20 years old created the biggest social network that exists. He started to build up Facebook from his dormitory. I bet there were tons of people telling him that he is wasting his youth on that. Today, he is one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men.

But there are also examples of young people who made a great impact in ancient times. Alexander the Great was 20 when he started to conquer kingdom after kingdom. He was 33 when he died, but he conquered the territories between Greece and India.

Also in science, there are several examples of young people who made a great impact. Karl Friedrich Gauß for example, a great German Mathematic, was able at the age of 9 to add all the numbers from 1 to 100 in less than two minutes, by just inventing a simple trick. How many of you are capable of that aged just 9?

But there are also examples of the other way around. The queen for example is 90 years old and still capable to visit so many places. Also, Pope Benedict XVI, the predecessor of Francis was still pope at the age of 87, travelling all over the world. Gandhi was 78 when he achieved the independence of India.

There are so many people who show us every day that age and capacity of doing something are not related. It is a social construct that makes it a lot of times easier for us to know how to handle people of a certain age, but a lot of times prevent us from accepting that there are also people outside of this scheme.

Jan Michel Khün
Students’ Union German Volunteer

Project co-financed by ERASMUS+.