Looking beyond a mere numbers game, what does ‘older’ age have to offer in terms of benefits and rewards?
And how does our relative age influence our thinking about ourselves, others, and life in general?
Since our words, acting as labels, influence our thinking. Does it help if, for instance, we re-label the latter phase of our life from ‘Old Age’ to ‘Mature Years’?
There is also a relative perspective on age itself. When you’re 30 years old, then someome who is 50 is starting to look old. But to a 70 year old, a 50 year old person is still a young ‘n.
So when do we start to get old? The common retirement age of 65 is a relatively new invention. It was created by the Prussian general Otto Von Bismark, when he was pressed to give a pension to old and loyal soldiers. ‘What’ he asked ‘is their average life-span?’ When he was advised that it was 66, he granted a pension from the age of 65.
There seems to be a fluid trade-off between age and youth, depending on how we are defining the quality of life. There are many ingredients to quality, and within these qualities there is room for several perspectives.
When we are younger we may have more energy, however what experience and skills do we have to channel it through? In contrast, an older person may have less energy, but they may well be able to channel it more skillfully and be more serene about the outcome.
With greater age, there comes the potential for a wider range of interests, which we have cultivated through the years. This range of interests and skills can seriously enrich our lives, if we chose to express them.
An older person may not have the capacity to do hard labor, or to fight in wars, but who wants those anyway?
So our perspective is key to our perception of the quality of life in older age. And this will come from a combination of personal choice, subjective experience and cultural conditioning.
What can also influence our quality perception of older age, is our definition of pleasure. Whilst it may seem self-evident that our tastes and needs do change over our lifetime, if we persist in defining pleasure in terms of the pursuits of youth, we are misleading ourselves.
Our self-perception can also have a bearing on our experience of older age. How do we define ourselves? What do we believe ourselves to be? If our belief system only allows us to be bodies, then we are severely limiting our self-view and subsequent experience in older age.
So, in a way, our personal and collective views on older age reveal a lot about our understanding of humanity, and what it means to be human.
1. The Long Life, by Helen Small,
2007, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
© David R. Durham