The Last Act: Age Can Be a Problem

Age can be a problem.

As Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It”:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The premise that justifies faith in the efficacy of morality holds that individuals 1) have a moral sense and 2) can use it to inspire and to discipline their actions and so serve a good greater than individual willfulness and personal advantage.  The moral sense, as understood by Confucius, Mencius, the Buddha, Aristotle, Jesus and more prosaically, Adam Smith, is made possible by biology and psycho-social prowess.

Now, as we don’t expect robust activation of the moral sense without cultivation, we demand more from adults than from children.  But what of old age?  Does the moral sense weaken as our other corporal powers decline as the years pass and experience takes its toll on our happiness and optimism?

Recently, I saw a study that correlated age with less efficacious leadership in the current Harvard Business Review as depicted in this chart:

My first thought after accepting the accuracy of the correlation was of American politics – Joe Biden is 81 and Donald Trump is 77 – and each, in his own way, are stubborn, irascible and insistently self-promoting.

If our minds tend to close down as we age, then what should be our highest and best use of our mature moral sense and accumulated wisdom?