Awareness Through the Ages


  • Author Bruce Wilson
  • Published July 7, 2022
  • Word count 679

Awareness Through the Ages

Bruce Wilson, PhD

Oscar Wilde said: “The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.” Is Oscar on to something here, or is Oscar just being cynical? Afterall, he died at age 46 that suspicious age.

The Young

When we are young, we don’t know what we don’t know. When we don’t know something, does it even exist? In our early years on the planet, it would be natural to have a cognitive bias when assessing ourselves. There is an understandable lack of accurate self-awareness. Our youthful arrogance and ignorance are really about feeling that we are the centre of the universe. Our ego is inflated to the max. We are likely to arrive at inaccurate conclusions about our world primarily due to the small sample size of experiences we have had to date. The danger of knowing everything is that it shuts down new information. We need to transition from this phase to become healthy adults.

The Middle-Aged

Our transition comes, according to Wilde’s wild theory in middle-age. Middle-aged is a nebulous term but suffice it to say that we are no longer in our youthful all-knowing phase of development. According to Wilde we have graduated to cynicism.

Through more life experience, we may have lost some of our youthful idealism. We may have come to the realization that it can be difficult to affect change. Also, it is much easier to find like-minded people who are cynical than it is to find optimists. Knowing you are not alone in your cynicism makes it easier to voice it to others. There is a certain synergy to cynicism that can become a contagion.

Being actively involved in their work life, middle-aged adults are more likely to witness the more contentious and polarized nature of the world. Studies by Almada and others have found that cynicism is significantly associated with coronary death and total mortality. H.G. Wells said: “Cynicism is humour in ill health.” Wells seems to echo some of the research into early heart disease and the associated early mortality rates of the middle-aged.

The Older People

Having lived through years of cynicism, either from self or others, older people appear to be ready to start believing in something again. Research has shown that older people, 65 plus for example, are four times more likely to share fake news. Nadia Brashier, a Harvard researcher in cognitive psychology, has found that older adults are seven times more likely than younger adults to engage in fake news and conspiracy theories. Brashier did not find this belief to be about cognitive decline, or increased conservatism, or gullibility. She found the more likely reasons to be about the increasingly smaller social networks older people experience. What she calls “weak ties” in her work. Brashier also discovered that older people only share information they agree with. This information can span the spectrum from bad to good.

Coming of Age

Oscar has some interesting points to his theory, especially considering that he died in 1900. His observations from the last century may still have some merit. However, we need to be a little suspicious and maybe even cynical of the creating of categories and profiling of people. Most of our past profiling of groups of people have been eradicated through enculturation and acculturation.

Enculturation and Acculturation

Enculturation is the process by which an individual adopts the behaviour patterns of the culture in which he or she is immersed. This involves learning the values, beliefs, norms and expectations of your current environment. Acculturation is often defined as the array of psychological changes that occurs when members of a minority group adapt into a mainstream group. This involves similar learnings about values, beliefs, norms and expectations in a new environment. Oscar Wilde and others were not cognizant of all these extraneous factors because they were not part of mainstream thinking in the 19th century. Maybe we just need to recognize that simplistic labelling will always suffer from the complexities of change. And, our awareness changes through the ages.

Bio- Dr. Bruce Wilson is a psychologist with 25 years of experience. He enjoys sharing his ramblings with friends and colleagues. He is currently in private practice at Mind Health Care in Geelong, Australia. This article is solely his work.

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