What Conversation Are You?

By Jim Selman | Bio

As many of you know, I view aging, and the rest of life for that matter, as a series of conversations. In my work, I try to show people that if we can observe ourselves and our world through the lens of language, we can see that everything we think and experience occurs in the context of some interpretation or another. For most people most of the time, our interpretation is that there is a ‘real world’ out there, and if we could only understand it and control it (and ourselves), then we’d be okay and win whatever game we’re playing.

Of course, in this interpretation (called the Cartesian paradigm), people (that means us) are objects and our conversation about aging is basically that we wear out like our cars and eventually aren’t useful any longer. If we live our lives in this belief system, then everything we observe and think is consistent with this ‘conversation’. In effect, we are the conversation that we are fixed objects and have to follow the rules of things that include our conventional wisdom about aging.

I have been writing this blog primarily as a way of paying attention to my own conversations as I grow older. I can clearly remember a time when age was a non-conversation—I just never thought about it. I wasn’t aware that I was often ‘blind’ to older people, didn’t even notice them much of the time. When I spoke to older people I didn’t even think that I had a bucket full of assumptions, opinions, theories and even prejudices about aging and older people. I didn’t notice that I would have different conversations with older people than I might have with my peers or younger people. I knew I would age, just as I know I will die, but the knowledge made no difference in how I related or communicated.

Over the past 10 years, I have watched my awareness shift. I saw myself become ‘age conscious’ and begin to distinguish between the way my body looks and how I feel. I began to see my conversations change about the future, about choices, about who I spend my time with and what I do with my time. I observe my conversation about health and physical capacity becoming more and more a central conversation. I am less tolerant of my old excuses for procrastinating.

I have a commitment to do what I can to change our collective conversation about aging from one of inevitable loss and decline to one of possibility and empowerment. I want to see mentoring and intergenerational collaboration to become the norm in family and community. I want to listen and learn from my children and other people younger than myself, and I want to be valued as I grow older, not discounted and dismissed.

We might say aging is a state of mind, but I think it is more powerful to view aging as a conversation. If I have learned anything in the past 66 years, it is that I don’t have a lot of control over what my mind does. It isn’t so easy to change. But I do have the ability to change my conversations. And since I’ve begun applying that idea to myself, I find that I look forward to growing older and expect this to continue to my final days.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.