That headline, “When Aging is a Good Thing,” turned up earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal but hardly in a positive sense. Since the story is about aged beef at a certain Manhattan restaurant, the headline is a near perfect example of the subtle type of elder bias that pervades all media all the time.
It is the kind of prejudicial language that alternately enrages and depresses people like me, and that the legions of age deniers refuse to recognize as ageist.
Slow Down, Go Deeper, Get Connected
In his latest book Second Wind - subtitled Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life published this week, Dr. Bill Thomas defines age deniers this way:
”In its mildest form, Denialism provides us with the comforting illusion that we look and act a bit younger than we really are...
“The desire to be seen acting 'young' is also important to Denialism. The retiree who insists, 'I'm so busy I don't know how I ever had time to work,' is making it known that she remains part of the 'time-stressed' adult's frenzied world.”
In his book, Thomas makes an impassioned case for establishing elderhood as a distinct and separate period of life from fast-paced, go-go adulthood. He has touched on this in past books, particularly What are Old People For?, but in Next Wind, he makes it the centerpiece and explains why it is important.
[DISCLOSURE: Dr. Bill Thomas once wrote The TGB Geriatrician column for this blog. My blog posts are published at his ChangingAging website. And, I consider Bill a friend.]
For much of the first half of Second Wind, Thomas takes the reader through the development, beginning in early the 20th century, of the “cult of adulthood” - how it came to be.
”Virtues like success, efficiency, productivity, and individualism which had long been tempered by the competing values of shared sacrifice, trust, and cooperation, were released from almost all constraints.
“Those who objected to the installation of this hyperactive, hyperacquisitive, hypercaffeinated adulthood at the heart of American cultural experience were branded as deviants and heretics...
“The resulting cult of adulthood has been both extremely potent and largely invisible.”
Invisible it may be, but its force requires that we behave as adults until death and this is what both disturbs and galvanizes Bill Thomas.
Thomas divides the generation that is now facing the decision to reject or embrace elderhood into three categories. Those deniers (who “are always eager to look and act younger than they really are”) along with
”Realists [who] take a different approach. They are concerned primarily with creating and maintaining the feeling that aging is being deterred”
and the third cohort who
“...have the temerity to celebrate the normal changes associated with life beyond adulthood. These are the Enthusiasts.”
The enthusiasts, Thomas tells us, are the ones who are now or will become the pioneers of elderhood. A big part of it is to slow down, to reject the constant cultural imperative to do, and allow ourselves to be:
In order to develop fully, elders need access to a slow, deep connected way of living. The 'fast' life that suits adults so well interferes with the normal development of elders because it leads them to keep running a race that they can never win.”
Acknowledging that some readers may be disappointed that he has no specific recommendations for a search for life beyond adulthood, Thomas nevertheless covers a good deal of important territory – ageism, croning, living arrangements (including Villages among other good ideas) along with why we should not dress our children and grandchildren as witches on Halloween.
Mostly, however, Bill is right that there cannot be a blueprint. Inventing elderhood will be up to us - the elder enthusiasts and any of the deniers and realists we can convince to come with us.
Contrary to what that WSJ headline writer undoubtedly thought was clever irony, aging IS a good thing and this book is the latest in Dr. Bill Thomas's long-time efforts to make that real in our culture and our everyday lives.
Second Wind Tour
Between the end of this month and early June, in connection with his book, Bill Thomas will be leading a Second Wind Tour Live Event in 25 cities throughout the United States.
”The goal of the tour is to start a new conversation that reframes 'life after adulthood' as an exciting stage of human growth and development—a time for challenging received attitudes toward aging.”
As Bill explains in his online introduction to the tour:
”I felt we need a new, national conversation, one that includes many voices and differing points of view. And we needed to take this conversation directly to people where they live...
“I knew that powerpoint slide decks and hotel conference rooms were not going to cut it. I began to envision a mixed-arts performance in front of live audiences on a grand stage that would resonate with the power that only theater can wield.”
You will find tour cities and dates here along with lots of other information about the the Second Wind tour.
[UPDATE: To be eligible for the drawings for a book or tour tickets, you MUST leave a comment at the bottom of this page. You cannot enter by emailing me directly.]
And here is a deal especially for TGB readers. I have two books and two pairs of Second Wind Tour tickets to give away. All you need to do to be eligible is to say you want one or the other in the comments below.
You could write, “Count me in.” Or, “Me, me, me.” Or, “Yes, please, include me.” But you MUST ALSO include whether you are interested in the book or in the tour tickets. And you cannot ask for both in one comment.
Go to this page to see what dates the tour will be in or near your town. All venues are available except the first three – New York, Pittsburgh and Newark – which are sold out.
The contest will close tomorrow, Friday 14 March 2014, at midnight Pacific Daylight Time. The winners will be chosen in a random, electronic drawing and announced on this blog on Monday 17 March 2014. (Heh, I just realized that's St. Patrick's Day so we'll call it a celebration.)
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: What are the Odds?