Questions I'm asking

As questions come up, here's where I write them down

What’s it take to become an “old person in training?”

I first encountered this phrase of geriatrician Joanne Lynn’s in 2008, andI liked it right off the bat. It’s a straightforward way to bridge the us/them divide, to connect empathically with our future selves. As Simone de Beauvoir put it: “If we do not know who we are going to be, we cannot know who we are: Let us recognize ourselves in this old man or in that old woman. It must be done if we are to take upon ourselves the entirety of our human state.”

 

aiming at ambivalence

I attended my first Age Boom Academy for journalists in 2008 and have returned several times since. This year was particularly rewarding, because now I’m able to put the speeches in context and because I’m honing in on a specific question: why are Americans, individually and collectively, so deaf to all but the negative messages about old age? After all, no one wants to die young, and no one disputes that the elimination of premature death is a remarkable achievement.

I nominate “olders.” What do you think?

I’ve just attended the 2012 Age Boom Academy at the Columbia Journalism School:   five days immersed in expert presentations on all aspects of aging, from healthcare reform to new developments in cognitive science.  Excellent stuff, and more about it soon.  The conference was sponsored by Atlantic Philanthropies, where Pulitzer-Prizewinning writer and New York Times veteran Jack Rosenthal is now a Senior Fellow. On the first day he asked us a question:  what should we call the population we journalists are writing about?

What drives the disconnect between us and our future selves?

Two friends sent me links to a piece by James Ridgeway’s piece in the Guardian about the future of growing old in America.(Bottom line: not looking good.  Better to be British, though not for long or by much.) What caught my eye wasn’t the greedy-geezer-rebutting statistics that millions of older Americans can expect to keep working or to be poor – or both.  It was the first line: “In her remarkable book The Coming of Age, Simone de Beauvoir observed that fear of aging and death drives younger people to view their elders as a separate species, rather than as their own future selves.”

Are old people happier because they’re aware that time is short?

When I first learned that the oldest Americans are the happiest, I was skeptical.  I was still in the grips of the cultural bias that drowns out positive messages about late life.  Also, happiness is notoriously difficult to measure.  (Ask me right after I’ve eaten a chocolate chip cookie.) So I was intrigued when a counterintuitive factor behind contentment — at any age — surfaced in a recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology

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