Arthritis of the mind?
Newspaper columnist Janice Turner wrote recently about the link between growing age and rigid attitudes: ‘As you approach the idle years, your habits become more fixed; your mental processes more inflexible... With age you know [more]... but how do we stop firm beliefs hardening into rigid certainties? We know only workouts will hold back bodily inflexibility. But we need mental exercises to stop arthritis of the mind’.
Maybe because of my own stiffening joints and a big birthday looming, I’ve become rather taken with this idea. Our world has opened up unimaginably: my mother (92) never left the UK until she was 50; my two children work on opposite sides of the globe. We have possessions and gadgets unknown to previous generations. Clever scientists and doctors have dramatically improved our collective state of health.
Yet growing choice and opportunity bring an ever-greater challenge to adapt one’s ideas and attitudes. Some issues are trivial: Ms Turner cited how older people become more resistant to others stacking their dishwashers. I might add: Why do young people constantly use words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘amazing’? But, reminder to self: the use of language constantly evolves.
Others are momentous and ethically difficult: new genetic ways to counter infertility; how hard to work to prolong life in old age. Some are hard to pin down: if I disagree profoundly with someone, which of us is the mentally arthritic one? My formative years (1960s/70s) were dominated by Britain’s sense of injustice at being kept out of Europe; now I read headlines such as ‘Only Brexit can save our values from an abyss’. Is it the writer who is unable to adapt to how the world has changed, or is it me?
How do you tell the difference between an idea to defend at all costs and one which is only secondary or needs rethinking, especially when the ‘experts’ disagree? Do church-connected people spend far too much time fretting over women priests and gay marriage, or are they brave protectors of their faith?
There has recently been renewed interest in church circles in ‘spiritual exercises’: a combination of meditation, prayer and religious retreat. For some this might seem laughable, but is it just possible that the greatest mental arthritics of all are the resolute atheist and the fanatical believer (whatever their religion)?
The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote: ‘Over the infinity of space and time, the infinite love of God comes to possess us. He comes at his own time. We have the power to consent or refuse. If we remain deaf, he comes back again and again, like a beggar, but also, like a beggar one day he stops coming.’ If that happens, could it be because our mental arthritis has got in the way of God’s call?