Eyes are trained to see through a certain lens. When that lens is the cultural definition of aging as decline, it is clouded and focuses solely on wrinkles, slowed reflexes, and memory lapses. When we begin to have Healing Conversations with elders, the lens through which we see is sharpened, and the picture shifts.
I was reminded of this phenomenon while standing in the dinner line at the independent living facility where my aunt lives. At first, all I saw was a group of old people shuffling along, most with walkers. When one woman’s charming southern accent caught my ear, I began asking her appreciative questions. She came to life in living color right in front of me. She is a writer and has prepared legacy books for each of her children. She travels and is quite active in her church. She got quite excited describing the fight she won with the facility when they consistently over billed her. The conversation energized both of us.
When we ask appreciative questions, those seeking energizing, meaningful, and best experiences, a whole different person emerges. It is the real person hiding behind the mask of age. When we listen with curiosity and the expectation that we will hear something interesting, everyone benefits. The old stereotypes of age dissolve, and satisfying person-to-person interactions emerge.
Whether we inquire into the lives and passions of residents of long-term care facilities, engage an elder at the grocery store, or initiate these conversations with our loved ones so we can get to know them more fully, Healing Conversations reveal the whole and vital person. Our culturally defined lens is refracted, and we see aging anew.
Joan Chadbourne is co-author of the upcoming book Healing Conversations Now: Enhance Relationships with Elders and Dying Loved Ones, available February at http://www.taosinstitute.net/healing-conversations-now.