Who are you speaking with?

Throughout this blog, I have shared the idea that we can look at age
and aging as a conversation—it is what we say about ‘the way it is’
when we get older—and how we ‘observe’ it affects how we act and,
ultimately, how we experience our age. The power of viewing age as a
conversation is that it allows us to distinguish between our age and
how we relate to our age and the world. It allows us to create meaning,
purpose and possibility regardless of our years. It can free us from
the circumstantial drift that our cultural story decrees for growing
older—a tale told repeatedly of loss and decline.

To be sure, our generation is redefining the parameters of aging. We
hear that people in their 60s today are enjoying lifestyles
historically associated with people in their 40s. We are healthier,
wealthier, more mobile, more educated and better informed than any
other generation in history. Technology has also allowed us to be
connected in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago—to
associate with people who share our interests, talents and commitments
or who just want to hang out and chat with other interesting people
from around the world. There are virtually no constraints on ways for
people to relate and communicate. The difference that this can make for
those in the second half of life is profound. While our bodies may age
and change, we don’t have to.

Observing and listening to the conversations around us will give us
some idea of where we are standing in relationship to age and what it
means to grow older. For example, how much time do we spend talking
primarily with people our own age? The more ‘homogeneous’ our networks,
the more likely we are to be ‘talking to ourselves’ and the more
susceptible we are to being sucked into the prevailing views and
practices of that community. If we think about our parents, many of
whom are in ‘retirement communities’, they can go for weeks or months
and never have a conversation with anyone younger than themselves (with
the possible exception of their own children and grandchildren). If one
were to audit their conversations, they would hear that most of the
talk revolves around real or perceived negative aspects of age,
criticism of contemporary culture, and health issues. Anyone who has
ever visited a nursing home will attest to how hungry people who are
shut-in are for real social contact and communication with people
outside their sphere of day-to-day contacts.

I have often distinguished between creating a positive context of aging
as distinct from various strategies for ‘staying young’ or various
other ways of resisting ‘growing older’. But if we were to look for a
specific strategy to keep us grounded in the possibilities of aging, it
would be to rigorously work at staying in communication with a diverse
community of people—different genders, different ages, different
interests and people who are engaged in living and making a difference
in whatever ways they have available.

If you haven’t already, take our Age Conversation Challenge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.