Clip #9: Become an Old Person in Training.
No one wants to die young. Everyone is aging. Yet most people don’t want to talk about it, or even acknowledge it to themselves. It’s almost a taboo.
As time goes by it gets harder to sustain the illusion that we’ll never grow old, yet many of us respond by digging deeper into denial. Given the way American society treats older people, it’s understandable. But this strategy serves us poorly in the long run (and not very well in our middle years either). Over time, a punitive psychological bind tightens its grip. It’s no fun to go through life dreading our futures. It’s not healthy. And it’s not necessary.
What’s the solution? Become an Old Person in Training. Step off the treadmill of age denial. Take a deep breath. Extend a hand to the future self you’ve been stiff-arming all these years. Or just wave. Acknowledge that you will age—that you are aging—at whatever remove works for you. (It’s really a mental trick.)
Becoming an Old Person in Training acknowledges the inevitability of growing old while still relegating it to the future. It swaps purpose and intent for dread and denial. It connects us empathically with our future selves.
Becoming an Old Person in Training makes tactical sense. Preparing for longer lives means working longer and saving more. Making friends of all ages and hanging onto them. Using our brains and getting off our butts.
Becoming an Old Person in Training is an act of imagination, too, because thinking way ahead doesn’t come naturally: as a species we’re engineered to live in the present. We need to envision what we’ll want to be doing and be capable of when we hit eighty and niney, and embark on ways of thinking and acting that will get us there.
Becoming an Old Person in Training is also a political act. It helps us to think critically about what age means in this society, and the forces at work behind depictions of older people as useless and pathetic. Shame can damage self-esteem and quality of life as much as externally imposed stereotyping.Identifying with olders undoes the “otherness” that powers ageism (and racism, and nationalism…). It makes room for empathy, and action.
Some people are born Old People in Training. The rest of us have to make our way to this healthier, more optimistic, more realistic way of being in the world. The sooner we make the leap, the better off we’ll be, as individuals and as a society.
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