MiddleAgedMan

“Every age of life has its own characteristics: boys are feeble, youths in their prime are aggressive, middle-aged men are dignified, old people are mature. Each one of these qualities is ordained by nature for harvesting in due season.” Cicero, On Old Age III

You know you’re middle-aged when you read Cicero and realize that you lack the physical prowess to be aggressive, and the wisdom to be mature.

But there’s a problem. You don’t experience yourself as, well, dignified.

In fact you know that not far below the surface is the guy that sings crazy songs in the shower, and can break wind with the best of them. The very word ‘dignified’ is a little scary, conjuring images of your teachers, or the parents of your friends.

Then you realize that you are a teacher, and a parent. But you still struggle to associate yourself with the word dignified.

Yet Cicero is surely right. Each stage not only has its own qualities, but should, through patient cultivation, progress beyond the one that preceded it. Middle-age calls for being dignified—from the Latin word meaning worthy. Young people are looking to you, and they should see a person who is growing worthy of some rather serious titles: parent, mentor, uncle, etc.

While not yet quite mature—that will require even more work—the middle-aged should be taking on roles that are especially significant in the community, and doing so with dignity. Such is their burden, their calling, their honor.

So if the season of middle-age is to bear its due fruit, we may need to stretch beyond that for which we feel ready, striving to be worthy to fulfill our place in life, and in the lives of those around us.

And perhaps being dignified in this most important sense, growing in character and wisdom through fulfilling these roles, will be the final step toward being truly mature.

Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is the great Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher.

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns.

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The Master said, “At fifteen, I set my mind upon learning; at thirty, I took my place in society; at forty, I became free of doubts; at fifty, I understood Heaven’s Mandate; at sixty, my ear was attuned; and at seventy, I could follow my heart’s desires without overstepping the bounds of propriety” (Confucius, Analects [translated by Edward Slingerland, Hackett, 2003], 2.4). I don’t know what Cicero’s age-scale was, but at present, middle-aged-(but in denial!)-me is pretty much between when I was, ideally, supposed to have overcome doubts, and when I’m supposed to understand the God’s or nature’s order of things. As for “dignity,” well, hopefully–assuming “propriety” carries the same connotation–I can, contra Cicero, be confident that I have another 25 years to work on that.

  2. Thanks Russell. We’ll check back in a few years and see how we’re progressing in understanding Heaven’s Mandate; and perhaps the ‘dignified’ will take us by surprise, as a gift.

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