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Thoreau's Misconceptions About The Elderly and The Value of Their Knowledge

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The elderly of society have traditionally composed the population of sages. However, in an excerpt from Walden, Henry David Thoreau contradicted this customary opinion. He believed that the elderly possessed no beneficial knowledge to pass on to the next generation, since they have encountered numerous failures and learned nothing of value during the course of their lives. Although logically sound, Thoreau’s philosophy contained debatable aspects. For instance, the previous generation’s failures have taught vital lessons. The shortcomings of renowned people such as Milton Hershey, common people such as parental figures, and historical figures such as the prominent leaders during the Cold War and World War II have prevented the youth of today from reiterating the mistakes of the past.

World War II’s drastic loss of lives as well the Cold War’s imminent nuclear threat have persuaded leaders of countries worldwide to implement precautionary measures to ensure that such atrocities would never plague the world again. Following these wars, the new policies enforced constructed the path to a more prosperous and peaceful future. The formation of the United Nations to replace the dysfunctional League of Nations allowed for greater international unity and increased power to oppose inhumane forces. The development of destructive technology became prohibited, while the introduction of innovative devices permanently transformed daily life. Additionally, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union sparked revolutionary discoveries in astronomy. The mistakes of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Josef Stalin, and other world leaders in igniting these conflicts alerted future generations to the importance of peaceful relations, and the knowledge gained from these tragic events provided the fundamentals for later advances, some of which the newer generations may not have discovered on their own.

Additionally, the younger generation would benefit from older role models who could teach them to face life’s hindrances. Illustrious individuals who rose to success through repeated failures and perseverance serve as excellent role models. They provide the youth with hope and knowledge that diligence conquers all challenges. A prime of example of this is Milton Hershey, founder of the Hershey’s Chocolate Company. A Lancaster printer fired Hershey from his apprenticeship and without an occupation to pursue, Hershey established a candy company. Failed company after failed company, he faced countless obstacles. After 3 failed companies, Hershey met moderate success with his Lancaster Caramel Company. His final company, the Hershey’s Chocolate Company proved to be the most prosperous of all, fulfilling his dream to distribute milk chocolate globally. Handed down from generation to generation, tales of the disappointment and perseverance such as this one bestow memorable lessons upon the children of the future.

Examples of the elderly’s gift of advice, wisdom, and knowledge to future generations is perhaps even more plentiful in parental figures. As they grew up, parents have encountered similar struggles to the ones faced by today’s youth, and their willingness to share their past nurtures the newer generations. For instance, my parents revealed their adolescent mistakes to me in the hopes that I will not repeat their failures. They give me advice on balancing academics, friends, romance, and work based on their experiences. Although Thoreau argued that advice from older people may lack in prevalence, my parents’ encouragement to pursue new opportunities and to dabble in different areas of work has immensely helped me to develop my skills and interests. From personal experience, I refute Thoreau’s belief that the failures of adults and the fragmented nature of their lives translates into meaningless advice. In fact, it is these mistakes and flawed experiences that make up the cautionary warnings and priceless advice for future generations.

Without guidance from the elderly, the youth of the present and future generations may grow up with the dangerous perception that they are infallible, which increases their vulnerability to the disasters of the previous generations. Disheartened by any degree of failure, the newer generations would not recover and learn from their mistakes. It is through the experiences of their predecessors that the youth of today learn to accept the inevitability of failure and to avoid the downfalls of the past. It is though these failures that people can flourish and advance. Thoreau’s misconceptions about old people and the value of their knowledge may breed a generation that is afraid to live and err. Most alarmingly of all, under Thoreau’s concept, the priceless advice of the previous generation would perish with them.

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Thoreau’s Misconceptions About the Elderly and the Value of Their Knowledge. (2018, October 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from
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