In last Monday's post, I told you that I was in Providence, Rhode Island for a conference on “Connected Aging” at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) and that the overall issue to be addressed was the need for our culture
”to look at aging differently, that by framing aging through the lens of care and increasing weakness, we’re missing whole opportunities to facilitate healthy aging – ones that support optimal personal choice in how we age...”
Among many interesting comments, Frank Paynter of Listics Review responded:
”That bit about seeing 'aging through the lens of care and increasing weakness' really spoke to me. How do we realistically re-frame that perspective while taking into account the limitations that have been piling up over the last few decades? I'm looking forward to your report!”
It will take more than one report to fill you in on what was for me an exciting day of new perspectives about aging.
To begin, I often write here about how, in retirement, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace, that can contribute to isolation and loneliness if we don't find other ways to connect with people.
Last Monday, I discovered that - at least for me (and probably many of you) - it's not just the general day-to-day, give-and-take of office banter. More importantly, I desperately miss the ongoing exchange of ideas that can't be avoided with a bunch of really smart, interested and interesting people. I got to do that again on Monday and it was thrilling to be in that milieu again.
Along with five talented and knowledgeable BIF facilitators, we were 12 invited participants from around the U.S. Without meaning to slight any others, here are a few:
• a woman who runs a dance class for aging Parkinson's patients
• a woman who for the past four years has been sharing a real-life Golden Girls home
• a man living in a condo that is a naturally occurring retirement community who for 12 years there has made it his daily job to show his neighbors how to enjoy their lives – with amazing results
• a man who teaches poetry writing at an assisted living center who says it is his work to “connect the dots in life”
• a woman who runs a rural non-profit where volunteers, mostly old women, make urgently needed home repairs such as roofing for those who can't afford them
• a corporate manager who is creating new visual experience and design solutions to aid elders and others navigate large retail stores
Most of these people are elders themselves – or they can hear it knocking on their door – and in the coming weeks and months, I'll do my best to get some of them to sit still for an interview for TGB so we all can benefit from their ideas and perspectives. You will find every one of them an inspiration.
There are so many new thoughts running about in my head that I will need to parcel them out one post at time.
One big takeaway from the meeting is that old and old-ish people all over America are individually “reframing the care and weakness lens” of aging by applying their knowledge and experience to enhance the lives of other people, often elders who may not be equipped, either physically or constitutionally, to do it for themselves.
Or, they are experimenting with new ways of being old – the Parkinson's dance class; community living arrangements; other projects that refuse to operate under the decline and disease definition of old age by focusing on people's assets rather than their debits.
These dynamic people I met are putting their personal talents, past training and experience to work on a small, sometimes individual, one-on-one scale to improve the experience of aging for others and, thereby, for themselves. The BIF people want to harness their innovation to apply on a larger scale.
Sometime during the afternoon session, there emerged a question that embodied the day's goal of finding new ways for us to continue to contribute, to grow, to stay connected and maintain purpose as we age.
When I heard it I said, ”YES” in as big a way as that looks in print because in six simple words, the question makes clear everything I've been trying to say about old age for the past decade.
Here it is: How do you want to live?
It can be applied broadly to the public policy sphere as would include Frank Paynter's (and my own) concern with accounting for the inevitable exigencies of age without defining old age by them and it is equally relevant to personal, individual lives.
Either and both ways, it is a crucial question. Nothing can change in regard to aging without find good answers to it.
Therefore, if you are so inclined today, I would like you to take a whack at that question and consider what it means to you personally, to your community or to our overall culture - or all three.
Does thinking about it change what you personally want in your elderhood? Does it give you some ideas about how we might work to change the culture of aging? What new ways could we find for elders to continue to use their experience and knowledge to contribute?
Give it a try. There are no dumb answers.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Armistice Day