If You've Seen One Old Person...
INTERESTING STUFF – 22 February 2014

Not By Muscle, Speed or Dexterity

While twice this week (here and here) we have discussed the argument for not assuming that old age is all about disease and debility, we need also to consider that however much elders are maligned by people who push the age=decline point of view, we do - like it or not - slow down as we age.

This is not, in itself, a bad thing and could be – if we lived in a better world – a manifestly good thing. Two thousand years ago, Marcus Tullius Cicero had something to say about old age:

”It is not by muscle, speed or physical dexterity that great things are achieved but by reflection, force of character and judgment.

Too many people who like this quotation leave off the next sentence which I think is crucial to Cicero's point:

”In these qualities, old age is usually not...poorer, but is even richer.”

Western culture all but insists that once we retire from our jobs, careers, professions, etc. (whether by choice or force), we retire from life too as if, at that moment of giving up a paycheck, we lose all the knowledge and experience employers once paid us for.

But as Cicero explains, we have something that can be gained only by attaining old age: our judgment, earned from all the mistakes, all the failures and all the successes we have gathered throughout our lives.

This is, Cicero tells us, a rich resource but it is one that goes unused because American life, institutions and government place no value on old people.

For several years there has been a growing movement to live mindfully, to spend more time being rather than doing, doing, doing which western culture so prizes.

I think that many people, as they enter elderhood, come naturally to this kind of thoughtfulness. That as our bodies begin to slow, we gradually transfer more of our attention to reflection, to concern for things outside ourselves and how we can contribute.

So the normal slowing of our bodies in old age should not be something that is lamented but instead is welcomed as an asset to be used for the overall good. Welcomed, that is, if we lived in such a world. Which we do not.

But we old people do not need to wait to be invited back into the cultural mainstream – it's not going to happen any time soon anyway. There are so many things we can do ourselves.

A personal example. Since last fall, I have been involved with a group that is creating a Village in my area that will, in time, make it much easier for people to grow old in their homes for much longer than now and in the past.

(This is a national movement that I have threatened to tell you about at least twice before and I will, I promise, do that soon.)

At a meeting one evening this week, we were setting up our first few committees, discussing what needs to be accomplished, how to go about it, where to get the information we need and what steps are next.

The room was awash in questions asked, answered or tabled for the time being; hands raised to volunteer for the committees; information traded; a whole lot of enthusiasm from a bunch of smart people eager to put our collective hundreds of years of experience to good use. And all of us 65 and older.

It is so exciting to be working with an outstanding group of elders committed to a grassroots project that will benefit old people for generations to come - something to achieve not with muscle, speed or dexterity but by reflection, thoughtfulness, force of character and judgment.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Do You Remember Cousin Grace?


Fantastic, Ronni. I can't wait to know more. You are one heck of a powerhouse leader.

You mentioned in a couple of places "Western culture", reminding me of what a woman said on television last night. She was talking about a program being followed in an Aurora CO high school (and others) where, instead of assigning suspension to students who engaged in fisticuffs, the combatants were required to sit down in a circle with their co-combatants, their parent(s), and the school facilitator to hash out grievances - leading to a restoration of acceptable relationships among the participants.

Said she, "...if you look at the Western culture. You know, we’re about war and violence."

Excellent post. I've been thinking about volunteering foryet another civic activity, and your observations removed my doubts. Full speed ahead!

It will be interesting, as we boomers get further along, whether public perceptions of what it means to age are significantly changed. It may be like a lot of things, where change comes so incrementally that you only recognize it in hindsight. I am a Kurt Vonnegut fan, and a short story he wrote decades ago featured a character named Diana Moon Glompers. She insisted that everyone be no more special than anyone else, and pursuant to that, had overseen the issuance of "handicaps" to anyone who had any edge on anyone else in anything. In the video version, two young, beautiful ballet dancers, one male and one female, came on stage laden down with weights, chains, all sorts of things to hold them down and make their movements dull and awkward. At one point, one of them begins tearing these off, then the other joins in. Soon they are almost floating across the stage, with the audience not knowing what to make of it, both horrified and transfixed. Diana Moon Glompers,in her heavy black shoes, matronly tweed wool suit and coke bottle glasses, comes out on stage and shoots them. I think what Vonnegut may have been expressing was a hope for a time when everyone is allowed to thrive in their own way, and their gifts and abilities celebrated and appreciated, whatever those may be,rather than be limited by conformity to the lowest common denominator of public perception. Maybe we'll get their yet.

Yes, many of us volunteer, and I work with a group of elders most of whom have had cancer. What a diverse group.

On last nights news, there was a report that against all predictions, seniors are having less auto accidents. I found that interesting.

Can't wait for the Village article, Ronni!

How exciting Ronni,
Looking so forward to hearing about that project!

This "Village" concept for seniors reminded me of a story I saw on CNN a while back. While the village in the story is in Amsterdam and deals with people suffering from dementia, the basic concept (with modifications) could apply to other seniors as well.


Staying in one's home until death takes us away seems to be the desire of every elder I have met. It is less expensive than being warehoused in a nursing home and so much more enjoyable.

What a wonderful project you are involved in. I, too, anxiously await hearing more.

Very interested in the Village project. It would be wonderful any place to connect like that for a good and sensible purpose.

Wow, what a great example of how quoting something improperly or imcompletely can change the context of what the writer intended to say.

Darn! sorry for the spelling error.

Ronni, you may already know of (or may know personally) a Seattle-area "elder guide", Liz Taylor. She has a website called "agingdeliberately" and gives workshops a few times a year on aging, caregiving, elder housing, etc.

We had a "geriatric consult" with her a few years ago and got some top-notch guidance. In fact, her concern about our elder-UNfriendly housing was one of the main drivers behind our move last fall. We (reluctantly) moved from a great 2-story townhouse perched on a hillside to our current 1-story on flat ground in a "55+" manufactured home development. The homes were mostly manufactured in the '70s, and we've had some issues common to older construction, but overall it's worked out well for us.

From what I understand, she lives in a partially federally-funded village type arrangement north of Seattle. Even though we aren't basically "village" oriented, the concept sounds interesting and I look forward to learning more. The issue of affordability would be a consideration for many elders. The unsubsidized units in her community are pretty pricey.

Elizabeth Rogers and others...
The Village movement I'm talking about is not a physical space - people remain in their own homes - so there is not a housing cost involved.

It would be good to try to not guess what this kind of Village is (or, at least, not comment about your guesses) so not to confuse other readers. It will become clear when I write about it.

Please do tell us about that new "community", and soon.

Here's one elder who does NOT want to stay at home until the end. I would love to go into community type housing where there are interest groups, chances to socialize, transportation provided and best of all--no constant maintenance of an older house. But my husband wants to stay in his house. Whenever we have this discussion he says, "ok, if you want to go, I'll visit you there."

I'm interested in your "village" concept, too. And I'm with Another Anne in that I'd rather be among some action, ready companionship, and other amenities. It'd be very temping to call hubbie's bluff.

Sorry, Ronni. I didn't intend to offer an interpretation of "village" that may not be accurate. I only meant to describe the arrangement that our elder consultant chose. She lives in her own apartment, so perhaps it's not too far from the concept you're contemplating. However, I'll consider myself properly chastised and say no more.

I didn't mean to chastise. I was trying to be sure readers understand that 55+ communities are not part of the Village movement and that because member live in their own homes, housing affordability is unrelated to the Village movement.

Got it--thanks.

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