Sapiens lives longer to help others

I met my good friend Xosé Ramón in a quiet bar in Burgos, taking advantage of the fact that the heat gave us a break. As the afternoon wore on, the terrace filled with older people who were taken to the tables in wheelchairs by others, not so old, who also sat down with them to have a snack. .

Between the tables, scattered, there were groups of young people – few in number – who basically came to the cafeteria to do the same thing: talk, rewind, future.

There will be those who will see in this scene of the congregation of the elderly a withered photo of our destiny, of the grayness attributed to the elderly. However, it comforted me. On this terrace there was life, a lot of life. A serene agitation, a calm joy that I already wish so many times for myself.

Menopause is a biological strategy

From the age of 45, it must be remembered that each day he lives is a little borrowed. If our life course had not deviated from that of a chimpanzee, reaching our forties would represent our greatest aspiration. However, our species lives, on average, up to four decades older than our closest relatives in the animal world.

But natural selection has chosen to extend the time we are not fertile. Therefore, we do not live long to have more children, but to stake our lives on each other’s children.

The grandmother hypothesis explains the impact old age had on the reproductive success of Homo sapiens.
Juan Francisco Mota, Author provided

It’s the heart of the grandmother’s hypothesiswhich highlights that menopause – the cessation of female fertility, in our case very early in relation to the years we have left to live – is not so much a sign of senescence as a biological strategy strengthen the role of older people in the future of our children’s children and, ultimately, of our species.

This involvement of the elderly has a positive impact beyond childhood. This is even reflected in the survival rate of adolescent grandchildren in populations Hadza hunter-gatherers. And, through the crossing of generations, it forges the most favorable environment for learning and the transmission of knowledge.

In the blood that runs through the veins sapiens there is a serial instinct that drives us to live – and live longer – to help others, no matter what the pessimistic critics of our species say.

Valuable advice in political decisions

However, it is true that our society ruminates on a discourse ageist dangerous, the one where from the threshold of physical plenitude one allows oneself to judge whether the elderly are useful or whether the life of an elderly person is worth living.

Instead, we should ask ourselves if, in the times we live in, another rooster would not crow for A wise man if in political and social decisions the opinion of grandmothers and grandfathers had more weight, just as in the past the role of the elders of the tribe was respected and essential.

It is quite possible that the future of our society would follow less belligerent paths if conflicts, instead of being resolved with adrenaline and testosterone, were approached with the wisdom and the most conciliatory and cautious spirit. of those who have already experienced the sameinstead of insisting on tripping over the same stone –or inventing new stones–.

Grandparents, the best version of ourselves

And it is that, as Xosé Ramón told me yesterday –which is always true–, in the face of the grandparents there is something more. Grandparents are, in a way, the best version of ourselves.

In grandparents, grandchildren find the love, protection, generosity and devotion that parents have for their children, but with a serenity and integrity that, in the heat of the moment, parents don’t always have.

Parents teach their children with some urgency so that they learn everything they will need to function as adults. Basically, in our children, even if they are children, we keep seeing the adult that we want them to become and that they will have to be able to survive and defend themselves when we are not there. It is for their good, yes, but the love that parents give to their children is a demanding love seasoned with haste.

Yet grandparents continue to see children in children and give them a hard time, not caring too much about the return, with another understanding and tolerance for stains on clothes, tantrums or awkwardness. They also have the residue that allows them to relativize and save the essential at every moment.

I know it’s different stages and roles, I know. And I know that both are necessary. Children should be able to remain children as long as they are. Parents should act as parents and grandparents as grandparents – which is not the same as acting as babysitters, mind you. But I admit, with a certain melancholy, that sometimes I would also like to be a little more of a grandmother to my children, with another break, another candor.

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