Fifty-eight billion dollars. That’s how much the anti-aging market is estimated to be worth. From skin cream to collagen injections, it seems the whole nation is emptying their pockets to avoid the natural aging process. It’s as though there is no price too steep to avoid the perils of growing old. Meanwhile, there are countless examples of stereotyping which consistently suggests that getting old is a horrible phase of life. There seems to be a subtly invading perception that life becomes depressing and meaningless. Hollywood depicts older adults as either clueless airheads or as over-the-top grouches with nothing to do all day but complain about various ailments. The narrative that seems to be mounting in America against growing old is a dangerous one, and it is time we started talking about it.
Let’s start with the fact that the word aging has been so effectively associated with negativity by top marketing executives who are peddling eye cream that it is no longer startling to hear the prefix “anti” placed in front of the word. Think about it. You expect to see “anti” if front of words like bullying, littering, or theft, but aging? Why? Why are we against aging?
Aging should be upheld as a sacred process of growing wise, gathering a lifetime of experiences, and developing the next generation for success. Imagine a culture where this process is devalued to the degree that the most qualified voices among us are invalidated. Unfortunately, it’s not that hard to imagine.
The elder generation has lived through multiple wars, economic ups and downs, they’ve seen the rapid growth of technology and innovation and yet, they are marketed as empty headed or frail. If this narrative is not silenced, we will continue to behave as though we are a nation of know-it-alls without need of the wisdom and guidance of those who came before us. This is foolishness.
So, how do we fix it?
Consider your own voice
It’s time we shift the narrative in our own voice first. Stop fussing over each birthday and obsessing over each gray hair. Aging is about personal growth and development. Aren’t you glad you aren’t where you were years ago? Celebrate all that life has taught you in your years and live each day with gratitude for how you may continue to grow. Be mindful of how you speak about age and shift your speech towards honoring the process instead.
Consider the next generation
We must teach our children the art of conversation and the value of curiosity, so that they can glean as much as possible from their elders. Sit them down to gather grandma’s stories before it’s too late. Let them hear about how children’s clothes were made from flour sacks during the Great Depression, make sure they know what it was like to watch man walk on the moon for the first time, and ensure they capture the teachings that build values like hard-work, love of country, and unshakable faith. Cherish the stories, the songs, the recipes, and teachings of the aging before these assets become extinct and our children are robbed of the opportunity to learn from them.
Consider making new, old friends
We must reset our own perceptions. If you have bought into the lie that seniors are dull creatures that are just waiting for their next dose of fiber, you are greatly mistaken. It might be time for you to make some new, old friends. Consider volunteering at a retirement community so that you can see first-hand that old age is nothing to fear or prevent. It is to be embraced and celebrated. You’ll meet a whole tapestry of interesting people, each unique and vibrant in their own way. Who knows, you may come across a 100-year-old who walks three miles per day, a 75-year-old who surfs, or a 90-year-old who codes computers. Be careful, you might not be able to keep up with them.
Consider the future
Aging is one of life’s great equalizers. We are all aging, just at different stages. Let’s do away with the anti-aging narrative and reset our vocabularies and our perceptions. In doing so, perhaps in the future we will have become a nation that that deeply values its elders, giving them the rightful place of honor within our culture.