ELDER MUSIC: Never Talk to Strangers
Senior Centers

How Our Convictions Changes as We Age

Recently, I've been thinking about how interests, beliefs and convictions change as we grow older. By growing older, I do not mean that milestone of crossing the invisible line between midlife and old age. I mean how we change during the period of old age itself, between the time we accept that reality about ourselves and whenever death arrives.

For most of us, there are a lot of years in that time, even two or three or more decades. And although the culture, government, even the medical community, frequently lump all old people into the same category, they are mistaken to do so.

There are large variations in our health, our capabilities, education, financial status and while I am not discounting how much those markers affect how we function in the world, today I am more interested in how our attitudes may have changed and continue to change.

Most people do not expect to believe the same things at 50 they did at 20. One hopes experience, reflection and learning refine one's points of view and sensibilities over time.

Even if the (incorrect) stereotype is that old people are all stuck in their ways, there is no reason the process of growth should not be lifelong. For example:

I'm surprised at how much happier I am than during my youth and middle years. I don't mean giddy or silly or even that I necessarily laugh more. Contentedness is probably a better word.

This might be related to the fact that I'm getting better at knowing the difference between what I can change and what I can't, and even when I fail at that, I don't get angry as I once did.

Having said that, however, another surprise is how my emotions have otherwise intensified. Climate change is a good example. I no longer allow myself to read past the headlines. That's enough for me to get the point.

Whatever else the article reports, I know it will only be worse for mankind and other living things than it was before and if I allow myself to pay closer attention, I fear I will never stop weeping.

It's obvious world leaders will not make the hard decisions about the only really important thing that matters anymore and so I do believe planet Earth is doomed.

I would love to be proved wrong about that but I don't believe I am and my heart breaks every day. Sometimes I cry.

Time is a weird one. I have never worked out a way to understand this: as my years on earth grow demonstrably shorter, I am willing to put “it” - whatever it is at the moment – off until tomorrow or next week or next month when something else intrudes.

That was never so when I was 20 or 30 or 40 but it is a great relief to be done with the “can't waits.” It saves a lot a disappointment.

One more: I make decisions more easily and quickly. Hardly any difficulties nowadays with wondering what if this happens or that. The greater difficulty, once a decision is made, is getting the project done but at least I decide a path forward for myself with a lot less fuss than when I was young.

Maybe I have finally learned – as I said for years but never took to heart – that aside from putting a gun to my head, there aren't many decisions that are irrevocable.

There are more instances of such kinds of change but that gives you a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about and now it's your turn. What beliefs or attitudes or behaviors have changed in your life as you have gotten older, maybe because you've gotten older.


Humans are short-sighted. That's as true now as it ever was. They are also hypocritical. Why else would self-avowed environmentalists be speeding down the highways at 70 mph in their SUVs? Maybe technology will save us. It has before.

Anger...I seem to have more of that as I have gotten older. The way life events have have taken away choices I would have had but no longer have that option. I have gone through many phases in my life but this one seems to be one that has pretty much stuck with me. It seems that even with what goes on in this world, when you really think about it, everyone should be angry. But then again, where does it get us? Maybe as the saying goes, this too shall pass.

I have been chastising myself for not reading the whole article in the paper (online version). I want to know some but not always the details. Do we get to an old age point where we don't!t even want to read the headlines? Thank you for this post

I have realized that I am so clueless about stuff. I thought I was pretty smart and had good common sense, but now that I have slowed down and can evaluate stuff, I think I have much more to understand.

At a small dinner gathering last night, with people I mostly did not know before then, much of the conversation ended up being related to aging, for the entire 3 hours. Most of us present were retirement age, though not all were actually retired. The one person who still has at least a couple of decades ahead of him in the workforce was talking, at one point, about all the changes that his children, now in their mid-teens, may see in their lifetime. He reported on an article he had recently read that said the first person who will live to be 150 has already been born, and that the first person who will live to 1,000 will be born within the next 20 years. Not wanting to be perceived as confrontational and challenging, by people I had just met, I contributed little to that conversation, which remained rather superficially speculative.

How we can conceive of a world in which, in a very short time, people will be able to live what will seem like endlessly, is beyond me. What will we do, who will get the services and supports that it will take to make this near-immortality a blessing rather than a curse? Most people there (I was not among them) were looking forward to living to at least 100, never mind that at least a couple of us had parents who who have spent the last few years of their lives in the decline of dementia.

What will it mean to the planet and the billions of people already projected to be on it during this century, even without most people living well beyond 100? One man's answer is that we are becoming a consumer society. And that helps how?? It just boggled my mind, and though I rarely drink, I was glad there was ample wine around last night to keep me more mellow than I may have otherwise been.

Feeling rather hopeful after talking to a younger person about how an attitude more feminist than patriarchal...one of "power with others" rather than "power over others" might be an answer to so many of our dilemmas. Working together brings answers, while fighting against, basically over fear of losing what we've got...brings more anger and hopelessness. So this elder almost 74 is feeling that I may not have final answers, but I do have some methods that my years have taught me. I also have a more accepting attitude than I did maybe until my 60s...finally letting go of trying to control everything I could.

I have a term for the changes you describe, changes obvious in my own life also. I call it Simple Elegance, a developmental stage where our experience and tolerance (or lack of) begin to add up to quicker decisions, less second guessing, and more satisfactions. Simple Elegance is an easiness born from our long and intimate association with our own selves, and when I recognize it happening, I am delighted.

I've become more impatient and less tolerant of rude, inconsiderate, or just plain stupid people. I understand why Clint Eastwood, in "Gran Torino," was so grumpy about kids getting on his lawn. I've just gotten tired of dealing with the same problems/people over and over again and figure by now I shouldn't have to anymore. But I guess the world is full of people who can't or won't abide by No Soliciting signs, or Do Not Call lists, or School Zone signs. Ultimately I blame their parents for not raising them right; but then you have to consider that those same people will be raising the next generation. It's discouraging.

Like many of you, I am finding it easier to make day to day to day decisions. Stuff that might have had me dithering before can be decided quicker now. I have more confidence in my decisions.

Where I've changed the most, though, is in my core convictions about religion. I was brought up to be religious, though not necessarily spiritual. Right now I am wrestling with serious thoughts about what I believe. I think I've been doing this for a couple of decades, but this spiritual questioning has been more of a preoccupation lately.

I also think I am more mellow. But in many ways I am the same impatient, impudent person I've always been.

In my youth, it was all about getting ahead. Now, it's all about staying even.
I don't need more, but I sure don't want to have to make do with less.
Right now I have pretty much all I need and even a little put away for an emergency, but that's about it.
Politically, I'm looking for any party or candidate the will keep me on an even keel. I want my benefits to keep pace with inflation (real inflation).
At one time I would have voted for anybody who put more money in my pocket. Either through tax cuts or less government spending.
Today, I just want to hold on to what I have and I believe that it can be accomplished by making everybody pay there fair share of taxes.
If that is a liberal view of life, so be it.
Conservatism is no place for old men.

As I have progressed in years, I have become more satisfied with myself and less tolerant of
rude or ignorant people and back-stabbers. I keep a distance or walk away from those that don't add anything positive to my life .
"When people show me who they are....I believe them"
I treat people well and expect the same.

Yes , this means less close people in my life and more "acquaintances". But if people who are/were close dont add anything to your life why tolerate them?

My family mostly an exception to this.

(LOVE the handle "Pinko Grammy!"]

Nodding along here . . . I'm much more content, but slower; I make easier decisions, but I'm more irritable, and so on. As for climate change . . . Ronnie, I hear you, but I still have some room to think they may pull it off one way or another. But here's a comforting thought: it's not Planet Earth that's doomed in any case, it's more our species (plus some considerable number of others we take with us, alas). I have every conviction that Mother Nature--once we've heated and/or overpopulated ourselves out of existence--will re-balance the planet for the next batch of beings. Just think--the Age of the Reptiles last 180 MILLION years. Or, we could, you know, get that asteroid thing.

Despite being rather exhaustively educated, I consider that when I was in my 20s and early 30s that I was basically semiconscious. Too wrapped up with career, "should I buy real estate or not" and of course dating/relationships. When I hit about 35 I had a life-changing trip to Africa that gave me a harsh wake-up call about the horrible destruction humans are wreaking on the earth and other creatures. I have changed almost none of my convictions since then - was more optimistic in my late 30s and 40s about the possibilities of changing the world. But into my 50s and especially now in my 60s, I find myself more pessimistic, sad and MAD about where the world is heading. I do find it impossible to read beyond the headlines about environmental/animal welfare/greed/corruption topics -- like you, Ronnie. I feel like I don't need the details - already know the whole sad story. But I am glad that writers are trying to wake up those others, who like I was, are semi-conscious of the terrible state the world is in.

And I find some huge decisions much easier to make (I bought a new home in an incredible 3 wks because it seemed so right) - but others, like getting rid of "stuff"/decluttering, so much harder - because if feels like I am discarding parts of my past. At the same time, I remind myself that if I cling to the past, I will never move forward to the amazing - if shorter - future that remains of my life.

All my young life I heard mostly that I wasn't quite the thing and didn't measure up. But most of the people who said that about me are dead now.
For me, still being around and living well is the best revenge.

I'm with "Chillin" about letting go of folks I used to be close to whose company I now find to be exhausting. One of them, alas, is sinking into dementia. I also find I am likely to be bored in social situations I used to enjoy, bored and impatient. The upside is that I'm fortunate to be moving closer to acquaintances from a happy time in my past, whose company I very much enjoy, along with a small book group I stumbled into. But I have worried about how few close friends I have left--and how I really enjoy my own company.

My grown offspring (I have no sisters or brothers) are another matter. I love their company. I love who they've become--in spite of me.

I didn't begin thinking of myself as possibly being 'old' until I hit 70 - 4 years ago. My political opinions have been drifting left since I was 60 or so. I am more amenable to change my mind in the light of (personally researched)new evidence now, perhaps because of the amazing discoveries that are now being made.
In the past 5 years I have allowed myself to *not finish* a book that I felt was not worth the portion of my life that it would consume.
I enjoy the phrase, "Simple Elegance."

Number one difference is choosing more of what you want or who you want to spend time with. Want to replaces should. Trying hard to not worry about things I can't change, that's an ongoing process, especially when it involves people I love. I also worry a great deal about the situation re climate change and the willingness for overlooking these outcomes for profit, example fracking etc.
The targeting of older folks by advertisers, by using fear as a motivator, is a disgrace.
there is no advertising, including AARP that does not try to take advantage of people's fears or insecurities re aging. Where are the articles or magazines that address some of the options for better living for people 70plus that do not include burial insurance, depends, reverse mortgages and "what should we do with Mom". I'm 78 and I still like to laugh and enjoy the arts, reading and wish there were more small communities built for older folks that want to live on their own.

So many great comments.

We're living in a scary world. We all know the issues. It's all out there, pushed along like an inglorious blob of misery.

I try to stay focussed on the here and now by stubbornly pushing back against that dark tide with random moves when possible.

Small example:

Montreal last Saturday night. We walked into the Concordia University metro station. That station attracts many students, buskers and some homeless people carrying cardboard signs, asking for help.

We had just eaten at an Iranian restaurant. Delicious food, huge portions. I couldn't eat half the food, so we asked for a takeaway box.

Later, into the maw of the Concordia metro station we went. At the bottom of the escalator, a person sat, hands folded, hooded head down over a tin can. A sign said he or she was homeless.

As we descended the escalator, I saw that person below, and pictured one of my siblings in that spot.

So I approached the person, tapped him or her on the shoulder. The person looked up. Turns out, it was a twenty something man.

I offered him the food. He gave me the biggest smile of thanks, and I gave him a thumbs up.

This is what gives me some control over the dark side. It's one way of shining a light or to put it bluntly, saying F off to the bad stuff.

The first belief that changed for me was in justice. Now I know that justice is more the luck of the draw than a reality. I'm still struggling with that because I really would like to believe that justice triumphs. Or that the bad guys do get punished eventually.

I have learned that my husband was right; he always said that if worry would change anything he would worry. Since worry never helps, he never did so. I no longer am a worrier.

Things that used to irritate me no longer do. I discovered that in the long run it makes no difference. Or, as so often said, in ten years will it matter?

I no longer waste time on doing something I don't enjoy. But I can waste hours playing computer games like Mah Jong or Solitaire and I no longer feel guilty.

My biggest change was belief in religion. (Sorry if this offends the people of faith). After half of my life accepting without question that Christianity was the only true religion I started studying and the more I read the more I stopped believing.

I now label myself an Agnostic, but have been told that there is no difference between being agnostic and an athiest. So take your pick. All I know is that as a very pragmatic person I can no longer believe in something that has to be accepted blindly. I am truly "Oh Ye of little faith."

It took me a really long time but, at 64, I'm beginning to recognize my faults and my shortcomings. I don't think I've ever worked so hard on self-improvement in my life! I've thought that kindness - what we used to call charity - is the Most Important Thing for some time now, but I'm putting more effort into practicing it. My faith is harder to define (I rarely try) but is, perhaps, stronger, having seen me through so much. I have less patience with -isms, and I seem to be drifting not so much toward the conservative side as away from the liberal side, feeling very much as if the liberal Credos of today don't have much to say to older white women like me. I like jazz now and music from the '40s along with the music of my teens and 20s.

I think the world will be OK, if only because people have been saying it won't be for millenia. It's hard for me to imagine what that "OK" will look like, and I imagine it will come with a lot of pain, and I think Western civilization/domination is winding down. That makes me sad; I like it despite its many warts. Anything human is pretty warty.

A beautiful essay Ronni.
My heart cries when I think of the world my now 11 year old grand daughter will face when she is in her middle ages. I, too, am afraid that the world as we know it is doomed. I can still choose to make ethical decisions about what I do with my little corner of the world - I grow organically and this will be my first summer with a big organic garden the produce of which I am going to preserve by old fashioned canning.
And like Darlene, I no longer practice any form of religion...and I consider myself an atheist. I don' have time for fairy tales from the bible....and I don't fear not being saved. I do believe that when I die, I'm just gone..and hope to be recycled into someones garden.
The thought of that makes me happy.

Thoughtful article and insightful comments. My life these days is summed up in a quote by Albert Einstein “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” I may be moving slower, but everyday I try to accomplish something that makes me feel good. Fortunate for me, I still find more good in life than bad---more smiles than frowns. DC at justageezer.com.

When my high school "Class of '52" graduated, we thought we would save the world.

We didn't.

Now, like you, Ronni and most of the others in this thread, I've come to an understanding with myself. I cannot save the world; the only thing I can do is to create a small area of calm around myself.

Thank you for this post. You consistently say things that need to be said. Well done.

When I was fifteen I marched and stood vigils carrying "Ban the Bomb" signs. I think back to my fifteen-year-old self and still understand and agree with why I did it. But would I march or stand vigils now for a cause I equally believed in? No -- and only in part because I have less physical endurance than I did at fifteen!

With the years that are left to me, however many that may be, I find myself wanting to focus on the personal. On leaving good memories, not only with family and friends, but also with strangers who remember "that silver-haired lady who did that nice thing one time even though she didn't know me," and with other friends and acquaintances on the internet who have known me only by a handle.

Lots of wisdom here! Great post and comments.

I'm firmly in the School of Letting Go, sometimes I get an A and many times, not so much. Which is why I'm in school 😎

I will be 70 in 25 days and I think this is remarkable.
Age has brought me a kind of peace of mind. I've achieved most of what I set myself to acomplish when I was younger and now I'm free to try anything I choose within my capacity, not necessarily my habilities, because I like challenges. If it does not work, I can choose to quit, no problem, no regrets. I do not answer to anybody but myself (and the IRS!)and that is extremely liberating - although I have a dense and loving family of sons, grandchildren, siblings and their descendants, mother and husband!
I never felt so liberated (I'm a retired lawyer and college professor) and independente. I am more laid back, relaxed about things in general and people. I will not solve the world's problems, that much I know, but I've spent my adult life trying to make it better and feel I'm entitled to take a break and look after my wellbeing uppermost. Too selfish? may be, but I've become a much pleasanter person to be with and my family and friends benefit from it.
If you are lucky, you become old. Otherwise, you die young.

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