Christine Webber

When I was small, my father was on a committee in charge of a project to turn a large church into a smaller one and transform the remaining space into a community centre. 

Most people thought this was a great scheme which would benefit the whole locality, except for two committee members, Mr and Mrs Watson, who resisted all change and couldn’t understand why the draughty, huge building could not be left as it was for the few people who worshipped there on Sundays. 

After every meeting, my poor dad would come home and sigh about the latest hold up, saying: "The Watsons were against it!"

The couple in question were decent, kind people but they had reached a stage in life where they could never see anyone else’s point of view if it differed from theirs. 

Unfortunately, intransigence often goes hand in hand with ageing, but those of us who want to grow old positively would do well to resist any impulse to indulge in it.  

We may get annoyed with our grandchildren when they mutter at us: "Yeah, OK, Gran…whatever…" 

But actually, it might do us good to try to be as easy going as they are.  
When I trained as a therapist, I remember learning early on that people with very rigid beliefs were often mentally unhealthy. They had strict rules and thoughts – psychologists often call this ‘absolutist’ thinking – which caused them trouble through life.  

Sadly, many politicians and world leaders suffer from absolutist thinking, big time, and maintain that if they believe something very strongly it must be true or right. 

We can’t do much about them except to be careful in our choices on the ballot paper. But we can be vigilant about our own thoughts and behaviour, and fight any growing tendency to criticize, carp and complain when we disagree about something and don’t get our own way. 

This can be hard though, because as the years pass, it’s common for our minds to refuse to let go of some belief or other that can feel desperately important, but often is not. 

That’s why people who have always seemed well balanced and sensible often seem to get bees in their bonnets as they grow older about other people’s behaviour. 

We all know folk who become obsessed with their neighbour’s hedge being too high. Or who are roused to fury if anyone other than them parks in front of their house. This can become seriously out of hand and can even lead to them blocking in the offending car or going out in the middle of the night and hacking their neighbour’s hedge down. 

As we age, we can also become a nightmare in the workplace. I remember a solicitor friend of mine feeling enormously stressed because his senior partner would not condone any expenditure that he personally deemed unnecessary. 

The firm badly needed a massive computer upgrade because the old system was unfit for purpose and driving the entire workforce crazy. But the big boss, who had previously been a genial and charming head of the company, was adamant it was a waste of money and incensed that no one could see things his way. 

The atmosphere in the practice became so unpleasant that when he did retire, many colleagues refused to attend his leaving party, being in no mood to listen to laudatory speeches about someone who had caused such misery. 

What a sad end to a great career. 

This kind of stubbornness often upsets families too – when granny decides that her own children are not potty training the grandchildren the right way, or that the young parents are far too strict with the kids about not eating sweets or insisting on early bedtimes. 

Conversations that begin: "I think I know best, I brought you up and you seem to have turned out all right…" are unlikely to end well. It might be better to remember therefore how much we resented interference from our own parents when our kids were small.

And to keep our mouths shut.  

Personally, I think we should all appoint a much younger friend to keep an eye on us and to tell us if we start becoming curmudgeonly. 

Meanwhile we should do our best to fight any urge to interfere or to be unreasonable in our resistance to change. If we try instead to be kind, and to be in interested in other people’s points of views, we will seem younger as well as much easier to get along with. 

We often talk about growing old gracefully, but maybe a better plan would be to try to grow old graciously. 

Wouldn’t we all like to be remembered for having a ready smile on our lips and a kind, considerate and flexible attitude? I know I would. 

Last week, I learned a wonderful 18th century word which means “complainer, fault finder and grumbler”. It’s “smellfungus”. 

I’m sure none of us wants to be called that, do we? So, let’s do all we can to avoid it.