If only, when people hear Joe South sing “Walk a mile in my shoes,” his poetic and encouraging metaphor for empathy would meaningfully move all who “abuse, criticize and accuse.” And, if only, older adults were among the intended beneficiaries of such understanding and support.
This is more than wistful thinking. Particularly in these divisive times, we know how difficult it is to modify people’s attitudes and actions toward anything or anyone. With something existential as the aging experience, words and songs may be what’s needed to help move the dial. If so, South’s metaphorical folk-rock anthem is on the right track.
According to the FrameWorks Institute, relevant messaging and metaphors may be the most empowering way in our culture to reframe “aging” as positive and purposeful. The goal being to overcome ageist inequities and counter-productive assumptions. Among them, growing old is not a disease, an inherent disadvantage, or something to fear.
While persistent stereotypes feed societal concerns about our increasingly aging population, it’s a bit ironic that research shows adults of all ages routinely push back the age they consider to be “old”; and say they feel 20 percent younger than they really are. At what point do we embrace rather than deny the obvious? The truth is:▪ “Aging is about us, not them.”
However clever the alliteration “silver tsunami” may be, this foreboding metaphor is as inaccurate as it is harmful.Humankind’s longevity should be an inspiration — defined by optimism, inclusion, compassion and generativity.
INSPIRED MESSAGING AND METAPHORS
Beyond the colloquial “age is like a fine wine …” there are plenty of constructive interpretations of what it means to grow older. Dr. Mardy Grothe, in his book i never metaphor i didn’t like, shares these examples:▪ “Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.” (Seneca)▪ “The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.” (English proverb)
Research shows there is a symbiotic relationship between the reality and perception of aging. Improve on one and the other benefits as well. We can promote this intrinsic interdependence with messaging:▪ “Everyone is aging. Some of us simply have more experience.”▪ “Aging is an active verb”▪ “Aging is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” (Mark Twain)
FrameWorks recommends advocates attempt to advance systemic changes that reinforce the “message that older age, like any other time of life, involves both challenges and opportunities.” Older adults must be treated as equals;otherwise, the Institute warns, “we are marginalizing their participation and minimizing their contributions.”
We must foster inclusivity — through policies and practices such as age-integrated communities and services; along with intergenerational relationships and programs — where we live, work, learn and play. This is how we break down ageist barriers and build mutual respect:▪ Older age is a time to repurpose life, not retire from it.▪ Older adults are our most valuable renewable natural resource.▪ Our increasing life expectancy is a plus, a “longevity dividend.”
Living longer takes personal effort, for sure. As well as others’ empathy, good deeds and kind words. There will be opportunities to exploit and challenges to overcome — inevitably and unpredictably. That’s life, for all ages, for all of us.▪ “Old age is like climbing a mountain. You climb from ledge to ledge. The higher you get, the more tired and breathless you become — but your views become more extensive.” (Ingrid Bergman)