What Is Old Age For?

Elders as resources

| September 22, 2005


In our misguided quest for eternal youth, many of us forget the function and benefits of aging and the aged. Writing in Yes!, William Thomas reminds us that it is worth paying attention to the life-learned perspectives of the elderly, who have played an important role in building and maintaining a healthy social fabric for centuries.

Adults who are obsessed with remaining young face the risk of perpetuating a society of 'developmentally delayed adults' fixated on accomplishment and lacking any sense of stewardship. Adults are goal-oriented and constantly doing; they are not comfortable simply being. Elders have spent their lives pursuing a variety of aspirations, their bodies have slowed down, and they are content just being. A sense of stewardship comes from the wisdom of being, not the production of doing.

'The development of human culture -- its refinement, storage, and transmission -- was woven into the fabric of old age,' Thomas writes. He urges us to liberate elders in our society and return elderhood to its rightful position of respectability and utility. The percentage of Americans over the age of 65 today is three times that of 1900, but the elderly are routinely isolated from society in institutions. If the African proverb equating losing an elder with losing a library holds any grain of truth, this is the cultural equivalent of locking up all our libraries. Not only do we need to move beyond our society's overt ageism, Thomas argues, we need to learn from and value our elders, not disdain them.
-- Rose Miller

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