You may already know that January is named after the Roman god Janus, who is often depicted as having two faces: a young one looking back in time and an old one looking into the future. I find this image especially appropriate for 2017 because, unlike my other posts on this blog that welcomed 2015 and 2016, this one is about considering the concept of direction as we decide the next steps to take in order to disrupt aging.
How should we move forward, given a new political climate that many people believe will take us backward by undercutting policies and undoing programs that have helped Americans of all ages survive physically and economically?
First and foremost, we need to determine a clear sense of direction. What does it really mean to grow older, and what are merely illusions and stereotypes? Is aging a process to avoid and fear or rather one to embrace and savor? As a society, we should be moving toward understanding the reality of aging and away from perpetuating the prejudice and bigotry that have come to define it.
Secondly, once we have chosen our direction, we need to stick to it. Strong rudders and sails; sturdy tracks and trestles; trustworthy radar, sonar, and GPS –– these are the tried-and-true means by which travelers stay on course. Our aging-based navigational tools should be 1) respecting people of all ages and 2) wisely integrating into our communities the social assets inherent in each stage of growth.
Like older Janus, we’d be wise to cast our sights forward toward this critical direction of aging, only looking back at our past misconceptions and policies in order to avoid perpetuating them. And so, in a spirit of renewal, I offer these New Year’s Resolutions for 2017:
- Let’s make science our directional compass. In this “post-truth” world of fake news, hyperbole, and fact-distortion, let’s run each assumption about aging through the mechanism of actual research done by competent professionals. That means taking the word of gerontologists, geriatricians, biologists, neuroscientists, and sociologists (to name a few) over those of marketers, anti-aging companies, corporate lobbyists, political hacks, and anyone else who is vested in making money or maintaining power by scaring us into thinking that being old means being ugly, useless, pathetic, and/or an economic liability.
- Let’s hone our own critical-thinking skills and apply them. Instead of blindly assuming that the media is telling us what is true, we should become agents in that determination process. We need to pause whenever we hear a reported fact and ask ourselves about how that information was gleaned, who gleaned it, and what is being implied by that data. As for evaluating any statement of opinion, we should question the past reliability of that opinion’s source as well as whether the source has a hidden agenda. We can learn to make ourselves more sensitive to detecting propaganda and then more confident in rejecting it.
- Let’s call out ageist speech and behavior whenever we encounter them. It doesn’t do our society any good to let expressions of ageism go unchallenged. By keeping silent under the guise of maintaining civility, we undermine the greater civility we need to preserve in a free society. There are kind (and even lighthearted) ways to call someone’s attention to an anti-age statement or act. Each of us should figure out the most comfortable way of handling these situations in order to not let any such opportunity pass.
- Let’s have civil conversations with unlikely people. The best antidote to this current atmosphere of divisiveness, turf-claiming, and wall-building is to deliberately expand our social networks. The only way to defeat ageism (as with the other social ills of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia), is to sit down with people who hold beliefs and opinions that differ from ours and have mutually respectful conversations that explore our assumptions, fears, and hopes.
These four resolutions are only a few strategies that can help us this year as we seek to gain ground, rather than lose it to retrograde thinking and knee-jerk insecurity regarding issues of aging.
It’s no coincidence that the Romans placed Janus statues at crossroads and city gates and his plaques over doorways. We are entering a year in which taking the right path is more crucial than ever before. Will we insist on looking backward at a longstanding history of ridicule, marginalization, and neglect of “old people”? Or will we set our course toward an enlightened horizon of old age as the positive culmination of every previous stage of human development?
In 2017, which critical direction will we choose? And, for the sake of our fellow Americans of all ages, will we stay the course?
Wende Chan-Arnett says
Oops typos in the Dear Jack letter. Laughing at the fact that my rescue companion dog, Tula nuzzles my elbow as I type!
Wende Chan-Arnett says
Dear Jack, You have identified your direction but not the path, the discovery, the symbiotic co-creations we are immersed in as we move in that direction. Calling BS is the beginning for you. You reject interacting with some. OK. You may choose to winnow your interactions and relationships with people and experiences for the rest of your life. Your choice. and that is the gist of these discussions as well. The remaining choices. Not having others pre-eclipse our own decisions, preferences and enjoyments. Caring for each other in new ways. Observing and relishing the contributions of those most frail and also recognizing that the words, the tones, the narratives we tell ourselves do change how we feel and how we share our vaery presence for as long as we may linger here. I salute your choices for your self and trust you may find others to share your life with whiloe you are here. Wende
Alfonso Thornton says
Fact.. When we talk about aging there are lot of factors should be considered such character changing, physical as well.. These post is helped me to improve the quality of life after 50 age. Good post..
While we need to have this conversation we also need to be aware that age specific isolationism perpetuates stereotypes and outdated attitudes. Whether it is the “young” auxilary/networking group at the local art museum or a “senior” gathering it is counterproductive. I agree with the above commentator that Ahhton Applewhites consciousness raising questions are a great starting place..preferably in a multigenerational inclusive group. btw when can we shed the word “senior”? It came about because the word “older” was so scary in our youth obsessed culture but I say we take back the word “older” and wear it proudly.
helen hudson says
@Jack….if you are only thinking of aging as “death,” you are clearly not LIVING……that is the END result, my friend–NOT the process……get out there and make a difference……with spunk like yours, my guess is that you have many, many years ahead. 🙂 Helen
Kathy Foldes says
There are downsides to every stage in life. I love the analogy to Janus and I have personally seen the power of inter-generational encouragement/learning/love.
Still the Lucky Few says
There is so much to do, Jeanette, to confront the new reality. Adopting some of your strategies may help, especially if people organize Age groups, and form Villages to give them more connections. It is so unfortunate that older people will now have to fight for rights they were given decades ago. It’s great that you mentioned “This Chair Rocks”. Ashton has done some great work! Diane Dahli (Still the Lucky Few blog)
Joe Wasylyk says
O.K. let’s look forward. A question I have is where should the 50+ seniors be gathering today to have serious discussions about how they can improve their own quality of life; and by choosing a purpose improve the overall conditions of society in general Mostly I see them in the food courts of most local shopping centers. This is not encouraging. What is your answer or suggestion to this important question?
Jeanette Leardi says
A good question, Joe. Here are four ways in which 50+ people can engage to improve the quality of life for themselves and others of all ages:
1) Organize a group that helps their own city/town become an Age-Friendly Community (http://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/network-age-friendly-communities/).
2) Join or form a neighborhood Village (http://www.vtvnetwork.org/).
3) Create Age Cafe events to discuss aging issues similar to the popular Death Cafe events (http://deathcafe.com/) where people discuss issues relating to death.
4) Invite Dr. Bill Thomas to bring his 2017 ChangingAging Tour (https://drbillthomas.org/) to their city/town. Then attend the event.
Older adults need to take the initiative to connect with one another. When they do, they’ll create an environment in which to have serious discussions and to improve their quality of life. (Even shopping center food courts can be great places to meet!) Maybe you can take the first step, Joe, and invite a few friends to join you. Then spread the word.
Joe Wasylyk says
@Jeanette, Thanks very much for your suggestions in regard to getting more seniors to get together to form discussion groups. I’m based in Canada and I try to look at every possibility to get seniors the right help. I believe that Dr. Bill Thomas only travels to senior venues in the USA. Also, I’m a member of both CARP in Canada and AARP in the USA. Somehow we need to create a 50+ movement on a global scale. If it’s not physically possible then over the Internet. There are seniors in every Country that are experiencing the same thing i.e. ageism and the desire to improve the quality of their own retirement life.. About meeting seniors in shopping center food courts I tried that once and was somewhat surprised. I suggested a business problem that we could discuss and found out that the best answers came from the oldest person (90 years old) at the table.
Jeanette Leardi says
Bill Thomas’s tour did visit Canada (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) last June. I assume he’d venture to other parts of Canada if sponsors were available.
Keep plugging away!
Jeanette Leardi says
One more idea, Joe:
5) Form a “Who me, ageist?” consciousness-raising group based on the great ideas of Ashton Applewhite, author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” (https://thischairrocks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/ConsciousnessRaisingBooklet.pdf).
Joe Wasylyk says
@Jeanette, Thanks for all of those great thoughts. I am trying to find or create a “consciousness-raising group”. I’m the Founder of the Seniorpreneur Project which through Lifelong Learning helps seniors 50+ choose a more active, creative and productive retirement life. Ageism is probably the major obstacle. Society still wants older people to claim their own place on the ‘pasture land’ before their time. Also, in most cases Government & private funding sources are usually available for the younger people under 40, and there is no attempt to create an equal opportunity situation to include people over 40. I think that it IS possible for older people through Lifelong Learning to increase their grey power to become whatever they want to become in their second or third Act. However; every senior 50+ is different and we will probably need a more hands-on approach not preaching to them as a group; but having each one find out in like minded discussions what specific help they need to move forward. Moving forward will be different for different seniors.
Jeanette Leardi says
I applaud your efforts, Joe. You’re doing noble work.
Jack van Dijk says
This is full of BS, the direction of aging is death, nothing more, nothing less. At 79 it does not worry me, it worries you. That makes you unable to discuss this objectively.
Obi Wan says
What you say is true, but you can also say that we are dying from the moment we are born. Why not say the direction of aging is transcendence.