If you were to hear the sentence, “Older people are….” and then be asked to finish the sentence, how would you fill in the blank? Think about it for a moment.
“Older people are….” What? Fragile? Senile? At death’s door? What do you believe about the older people you know? What if the statement was, “Older people are bright, energetic, active and interesting”?
You see, it’s really impossible to generalize about so-called “old people,” any more than we can safely generalize about teenagers or 40-year-olds. And exactly what is “old”? Your answer to this question is particularly revealing of your attitudes.
Does aging have to mean a loss of significance? Do our older selves matter less than our younger selves? Much of the answer to these terribly important, but rarely-spoken, questions sit within our attitudes. Age truly is a state of mind, a state of being, and not necessarily time.
If these attitudes define “old age” as a time marked by loss and decline, we are in for some real trouble. Besides, there is simply no data to support this negative conclusion. As Norman Cousins once said, “No one knows enough to be a pessimist.” Nearly every week, there is some posting to Facebook, showing an older person defying expectations about one thing or another.
Aging, like most everything else, turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get largely what you expect to get, what you believe, and what you think is likely for you. Pygmalion was not a casual insight of George Bernard Shaw. It was an observation of everyday dynamics.
So, if you are asked to complete the sentence, “When I am an older person…” what will you say? Do you expect the best for yourself? Do your actions support those expectations? And, are your attitudes getting in the way of a different, more positive, answer?
Wisdom is not the province of the young. Wisdom comes with age and experience, mistakes made, apologies made and accepted, gratitude, compassion and forgiveness. We age as we grow into wisdom. “Old” as a label, if we work it right, is a badge of honor.
And keep in mind, “with a little bit of luck,” we will all get to be “old people” one day. And if we work it right, it’ll be “Look out world – here we come!”