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Fight Ageism, Not Aging

As I approach my mid-70’s I find I am caught in a duality between wanting to live a more gracious, peaceful and happy life and a desire to intensify and squeeze meaning and purpose into my elder years. I am attracted to both conscious aging and activism, fighting ageism and other important concerns. Can we have both?

Conscious Aging

Our worldview informs how we live, what gives us purpose, what we value, how we understand reality and our place in it. As people grow and interact with the world, they learn to categorize, discriminate, and generalize about what they see and feel. A worldview combines beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, values, stereotypes, and ideas to construct complex conceptual frameworks that organize lived experience. Together these form a kind of scaffolding on which individuals can build a meaning system about their past, present, and future.

The conscious aging movement offers a new way of considering aging that moves past the industrial world’s preoccupation with youth, toward an appreciation of the transformative potentials that come with aging. In this way, a new model of aging is called for that embraces the fullness of life and all its complexities.

Lars Tornstam defines transformations in elderhood as ‘‘gerotranscendence.’’ He argues that people become less self-focused and more selective in their choice of social and other activities. Solitude becomes more important, with a decreased interest in superficial social interaction, material things, and with a greater need for meditation or introspection. People in this construct of gerotranscendence report a reduction in the fear of death—with a deep appreciation of life and death. This can lead to broadmindedness and a sense of tolerance, as well as increased feelings of unity with the universe and a new view of time. Such shifts may support positive transformations in worldview.

Anti-Ageism: The Next Big Social Movement

Ruth Ray Karpen writes in a review of the book Ending Ageism or How Not to Shoot Old People, by Margaret Morganroth Gullette, that “Of all the prejudices that divide us, ageism is still the most universally shared and tolerated.”

“We learn from Gullette how ageism is just as destructive as other forms of oppression that marginalize, silence and alienate a targeted group. All ‘isms’ are self-centered and mean-spirited and lead to ‘increased indifference or neglect, social rejection, disdain or even aversion, aggression, contempt, ostracism, sadism.’ They sometimes escalate from intolerance to violence.”

“The rallying cry that echoes throughout this book is worth committing to memory: “Fight ageism, not aging.”  It is a crucial distinction.  Ageism is a form of systemic prejudice leveled against people of a certain age.  Aging is the progression of a body through time, and even that is heavily influenced by history and culture.  Aging serves as the trigger for ageism.”

“Aggressions, active or passive, against old people are the result of ageism. They tear at the social fabric and undermine the well-being of all people, young and old. They create a toxic environment where both perpetrators and victims suffer.”

Gullette writes: “A successful anti-ageism movement will be a grassroots effort.  Like the encounter groups of the 1970’s, it starts when we get in touch with our “age-wise anger” and speak up:  tell our stories and listen to others’ stories about ageism; develop solidarity with older adults; educate youth, including our own children and caregivers; demand better representation and accountability from the media; and learn how to stand up for ourselves and our hard-won status as elders.”

If you have the time (41 min.) to listen to Margaret Gullette, as she discusses a Declaration of Grievances, click here.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi

2 Responses to Fight Ageism, Not Aging

  1. R Voice

    December 29, 2017 at

  2. R Voice

    January 1, 2018 at

    “Chasing meaning, not happiness, is what really matters.”

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