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[Kim Ji-hyun] Aging with grace

A few weeks ago, there was a bit of a row among a couple of Korean ladies living in Tokyo.

To cut a long story short, an older lady ended up apologizing to a younger one for trying to force her to see things from her viewpoint.

I thought that was the end of that, but after dining with one of them – the older one – last week, I could see she still refused to believe she had done anything wrong. 

She complained that the younger woman had asked for advice and that she had imparted it, with the expectation that it would be followed. When this did not happen, she began to hold a grudge against the younger woman, which eventually led to their falling-out.

This is where we make one of the biggest mistakes of aging, in my opinion.

As soon as one sits down with someone younger, we start doling out unwelcome advice and spew anecdotes about our lives or accomplishments, believing doing so would do the “young folks” a world of good.

We begin to preach and to talk about rules and principles that we have applied to our lives and that have served us “well.”

Of course, at the same time, we also emphasize how everyone is different and that nobody can force anybody to change or see things differently. But what we really want seems to be the opposite. We want to influence younger people and make them see things from our perspective.

This usually creates a chasm between the two parties. The older person is likely to shake his or her head and start muttering about kids these days. The younger person will usually roll his or her eyes. 

I remember a lady here who used to flood me with advice on raising kids. She felt entitled to do so, I guess, for she has had much more experience in that department. Back then, I had been a working mom for nearly a decade, but what would I know, right?

While some of her advice did make a difference in my relationship with my son, some of her words often hurt my feelings or made me feel defensive. Even when she turned out to be right, I wasn’t able to muster up much gratitude.

At the same time, I too catch myself talking excessively to younger folks or trying to impart unwanted information. Basically, talking down to them.

It could be because I really want to help them. But I realize now that it’s also due to my own insecurity. I look and feel older, and want to cover that up by trying to appear and sound smarter than I am. Aging is tough, and meeting younger people who make you feel your age more acutely does not help.

In Japan, I’ve often been surprised at how courteous the elderly are. Many don’t seem to take their age for granted. That is they don’t act as if they should be excused due to their age.

This is a good way to age.

As you grow older, you become smarter as well as accumulate experience, achievements and success. Even if you don’t say a word to us about this, someone else might speak on your behalf, so don’t worry.

In fact, it’s actually better to hear your success stories being told by someone else.

You don’t have to be rich, look younger than your age or constantly sprout wisdom to earn respect.

If you treat others the way you would like to be treated, or better yet, the way you would have wanted to be treated when you were their age, you can do no wrong.

And that’s what I call aging with grace. 

By Kim Ji-hyun (

Korea Herald correspondent