Do you want to grow old? Most people answer yes. A qualified yes, that is: “As long as I’ve got my health.” Long life looks attractive when it’s uncoupled from cognitive and physical decline. It’s a lot cheaper too: illness is expensive.
There’s a lot of disagreement around how to frame the last century’s unprecedented increase in human lifespan. Is it a crisis or an opportunity? Will a “grey tsunami” of incapacitated freeloaders sweep us off our feet, or will we tap into the social capital of millions more healthy, well-educated adults? Are longer lives a blessing or a curse? Experience and ideology shape the responses, of course, but there’s one thing both liberals and libertarians can agree on. What single characteristic of these older Americans will make the most difference? Their health. Living longer looks a lot more attractive when it’s uncoupled from cognitive and physical decline. It’s a lot cheaper too: illness is expensive.
Once I got past the title (“What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?”) and the creepy photographs of faux-old toddlers—the ageist equivalent of blackface? Or “grayface?” as my colleague Andrea Charise proposed?—I read this article in the New York Times magazine with great interest. And mixed feelings.
Since I titled another post “Oh Grow Up,” I’m establishing a category: the Boomer Lament. The latest entry, “When Did We Get So Old?” appeared on the New York Times’ Most Emailed list, so it’s clearly striking a chord. Make that chord the twang of a tragic country song: How could this happen to me-ee-ee-ee?
That offending phrase, and offend it did, appeared in a group email, the group being a bunch of college classmates who pass around photos of get-togethers and nostalgia-based music recommendations. The context was a boating foray in which food, fun, and alcohol were dispensed, the latter “not like gin and juice at DKE but as fun as we 60+ers could manage.”
In a society that still accepts ageism, denial takes many forms. It’s time to challenge this damaging bias against older adults and signal ‘the beginning of the end’ for ageist practices.
About 35 members of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) heard my talk last week as the last of a week of free workshops. RSVP “connects individuals who are 55+ to meaningful volunteer opportunities throughout New York City.” Since people who do meaningful work on a regular basis aren’t retired, RSVP is a lousy name, as director Meredith Gemeiner readily admits. But it’s a good program, the volunteers liked what I had to say, and two of them told great stories during the follow-up conversation.