A Call for Radical Aging

ageing

In the 60’s, we raised our voices to put an end to racism, sexism, and to end a war.  Now, we are in our 60’s and we need to dig down deep to raise those voices again to put an end to ageism.

If there is any certainty in this world, it is that we are all journeying in the same direction.  We are all going to age, we are all going to, hopefully, get old, and we are all going to die.  How we age and how we prepare for the last part of our life’s journey will be shaped in great part by the society we live in.

Do we want to take that journey in an ageist society?  As women, do we want to remain invisible, spending time and money trying to erase the signs of old age and wisdom from our faces and bodies while hoping someone will see us and/or hear us?  As men, do we want to cling to myths of virility and strength, trying to deny the inevitable? Or, do we want to be respected, even revered, for lives lived and the knowledge and experience that comes with actively living through the many challenges we’ve faced?

As boomers and seniors, we have an obligation, a duty, to make our voices heard, speaking up for and molding the kind of society that will not see us as the “other”.  Many of us raised our voices in the 60’s to help create the civil rights movement, the anti-(Viet Nam) war movement, and the women’s rights movement.  Now, we are in our 60’s, and we need to dig deep down to re-energize those voices today to create a Radical Aging movement.

Longevity is here.  It’s everywhere.  It permeates the media, in professional journals, memoirs, movies and theatre, you name it.  More of us are going to live to be older than ever before in history, and our children and grandchildren even older. The effects of longevity are tenfold, affecting our health care choices, our work environments, and our relationships within families.  You may have already bumped into the challenges of longevity as caregivers of your aging parents who are in their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. If you haven’t been there yet, it will, I can assure you, be one of the truly life-impacting eye openers that you experience on your life’s journey.  It is a front row seat view into a future that needs a movement to change it.

We are a generation that has lived through great societal changes, some good and some not-so-good.  Some of the positive changes still need refining, but there is no doubt that we made them happen.  Some I mentioned above; civil rights and women’s rights, and more recently, gay rights.  Our lives have been influenced and molded by constantly evolving technological innovations; we have new ways of communicating through social media.  We Skype or have facetime with our families who are more often separated by greater and greater distance.  We’ve moved from an insular world into a connected world.  Once only talked about, we can now see, often in real time, how what we do in our personal lives impacts other lives, not just in our own communities but on a world-wide level.  Medical research and the attending technology have contributed to the unprecedented length of life, and this is presenting challenges that are only first being addressed.  On every level and in every walk of society we are finding choices that were never available before.  We spend a lot of time trying to determine what is available to us and what we really want.

Yet, as we celebrate longevity, we stigmatize growing older.

It is time to change the accepted language of aging. All the descriptive aging stereotypes that pervade our culture and collective conscience need to become non-p.c.   We are so much more than boomers, seniors, senior citizens, aged, ancient, crones, oldsters, codgers, golden agers, geezers, old-timers, grannies…and here’s on I just came across…coffin dodgers.  Any of these sound like compliments?  We live in a culture of age and death deniers.  Putting old people “out to pasture” is no longer an acceptable metaphor.  Neither is putting them out to the golf course, shuffleboard, nor bingo.

As we age we become more and more diverse.  The longer we live, the more opportunity we have to be shaped by our life experiences which render us more dissimilar than alike.  One size does not fit all.  There is diversity in how we age biologically, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  We bring “value added” to society.  Yet, in a culture of ageism and denial, to be recognized for that “value added” is an uphill struggle, and it is time for us to take up the struggle.  We proved in the past that we can effect change, and we are just going to have to dust off those banners and slogans, put on our most comfortable walking shoes and get out there again.

I leave you with this anecdote from my own experience:  I’m 60 years old and sitting in a class on public policy for the aging.  Next to me is this very sweet 20-something young woman, arduously taking notes and following the instructor’s every word.  After hearing the statistics on senior health issues and senior poverty, she turns to me and says, “I’m never going to get old.”  My response is, “I really do hope that you will.

Advocate or Vacate: LAUSD Students Protest for Science Teacher

LAUSD Student Protest
LAUSD Student Protest

Some things simply aren’t written into our public school curriculum. There aren’t established standards for compassion, integrity, authenticity, and standing up for what you believe in. However, this doesn’t mean opportunities for such teachable moments do not present themselves, but they’re often avoided due to fear or retaliation. Fear of offending someone, fear of negative consequences, fear of judgment are several ways in which fear manifest. During the time of human development when we are the most impressionable, most creative, and most in touch with our core selves and passions, we are often robbed of those traits in order to adhere to fear-driven preset standards that create conformity.

Fortunately, teachable moments have a way of unexpectedly inserting themselves into our lives creating standards for morals and conformity is wholly disregarded. I had the pleasure this week of personally witnessing such a moment. On my morning commute, I observed students outside a Los Angeles public school protesting what they deemed to be the unjust removal of a beloved science teacher. Seeing these students passionately picketing for something they believed in, in order to help someone they believed in, almost moved me to tears.

According to KTLA,

Greg Schiller was suspended from the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (map) in February when another employee raised concerns that two of Schiller’s students made projects that looked like weapons, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The projects, which were designed to launch small projectiles, have been confiscated by LAUSD as evidence, one parent told the Times. Schiller said he did not get a chance to grade the students’ work. Read Full Article

The lump in my throat signified how inspired I was by these students standing up for themselves and their beliefs. It is so easy at any age to simply sit back, complain, and not lift a finger in effort toward that which is right. Yet, here were high school students who are taught daily to respect authority and their decisions. Often by remaining silent and doing what they’re told, they adhere to the set standard. However, in this instance, they took a risk and fully expressing themselves. The protest also occurred one day after another LAUSD student-led protest, in which the students were successful in securing their desired student position on the school board.

It was a moment of personal and universal reflection for me. As a therapist it’s my job to advocate for my clients and motivate them to advocate for themselves, yet I frequently struggle with that both professionally and personally. There are moments every day where I-we-have the opportunity to speak up for ourselves and others in an effort to create a more kind and just world. Yet, we often shrink back out of fear and the opportunity passes. We may not always be right. There may be an infinite amount of opinions. It may not even make a measurable difference. However, if we remain silent and still for too long we’ll never know. We’ll never have the opportunity to be a part of the many tiny or humungous steps that do create a difference. If Freedom Fighters hadn’t made the first move to literally climb steps onto buses, the Civil Rights movement may have been quite different.

We are blessed to live in a world where opportunities continue to present themselves until we learn from them. I’d like to think I learned a little something from these youth and the next time I’m presented with the choice to remain silent or advocate, I remember them and choose the latter. I hope that the next time they’re presented with the choice they’ll continue to have that same courage I witnessed, and I hope that everyone who reads this has that same courage. If you have to fear anything in life, fear silence and immobility not compassionate action.

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