A friend was asking me why I’m so keen to change our
conversation about aging—to transform the culture of aging from one of
decline to one of possibility. One answer is self-interest, insofar as
I am growing older and experiencing more and more of the symptoms of a
culture that objectifies me and wants me to follow its prescription for
“growing old gracefully” (which means ‘slow down’, step aside, play
golf, enjoy my grandchildren, be as comfortable as possible and ‘pass
the torch’ to the next generation). While there is nothing wrong with
this scenario (and on many days it looks inviting), I want to have a
choice and not become marginalized because of my age and our culture’s
fixation on youth, speed and passing fashion.
I have spent most of my working life helping organizations deal with
cultural issues such as ‘us versus them’ office politics, departmental
silos that undermine and destroy any possibility of effective teamwork
or accountability, and bureaucratic environments that bog down in
endless talk without action or without commitment to implement what
everyone agrees needs to be done. What I have learned is that cultures are just people living and working inside a story about ‘the way it is’.
The culture is always whatever is considered ‘reasonable’ at a certain
point in time. It, in turn, affects what people can see as possible and
what actions they can take.
A culture change can only occur when a critical mass of people
commit to a ‘new story’ and start living that story every day. What
gives power to the status quo and keeps a culture from changing is when
people are resisting and fighting against the old story, trying to
‘fix’ or control ‘reality’. When this happens, we ‘get what we resist’,
which is why some basic and fundamental changes seem so difficult to
bring about. It is more accurate to say we need to create the culture we want and then conventional wisdom and ‘reasonable choices’ give way to new possibilities and actions.
The biggest obstacle to this kind of change is RESIGNATION.
Resignation is the state we fall into when we give up—when we lose
touch with the possibility of there being any possibility. Being
resigned is buying into a story that none of it really matters, we
don’t make a difference, why bother trying, and so forth and so on. It
isn’t a particularly negative state: it’s more like a ‘deadening’ of
our creative sensibilities, curiosity and capacity to engage in
productive and creative ‘what if’ conversations. Resignation is not acceptance—acceptance is a choice. No,
it is by definition taking on a point of view of ‘I have no choice’,
which renders us powerless and victims of our circumstances (including
My real reason for taking on this project to transform the culture
of aging is that I observe that, sooner or later, most people become
resigned as they grow older. This is unnecessary and unfortunate at the
individual level. It’s when a population with the demographic muscle of
the Baby Boom becomes resigned in very large numbers that the whole
society is impacted in a profoundly negative way. All possibility is
sucked out of the system for everyone—young and old. For this reason, I
am challenging all of us to keep CREATING POSSIBILITY—regardless of
what our cultural stories tell us—and to have the last day of our lives
have as much (or more) possibility than the first.