Ageism Among the Aged – That’s Whacky! Aging | Who Me?

— from Rosie Kuhn —

I know plenty of individuals in their 60s, 70s and 80s who don’t want to hang around with “old people.” These old people may be the same age, yet, they are seen as different, because they are seen as old. Isn’t that fascinating? When is Old old, and what is Old, anyway?

Orcas Island Senior Lunch. The room is a sea of white haired people, sitting around tables, apparently enjoying the company of others. Quite often a piano player is providing beautiful and joyful music. To some, this is very inviting.

Depending on which table you visit, you may find people talking about the Domino Game that will follow lunch. At another table they are talking about aches and pains, body part replacements, or how so-and-so just got medi-vac’d off the Island. At another table, there is talk about singing at the next talent show; another, about visiting children and grandchildren. There is a table of individuals talking politics, about good books, or the upcoming live streaming of an opera or ballet. And at another, they are talking sports, hunting, and fishing. You just never know.

When you walk into the room, based on what you think and believe about aging, you may not see yourself as one of them – one of those white haired people. In that moment, you may be thinking: I’m not one of them – I’m not aging and I’m not getting old.

Somehow, we don’t see that aside from being a white haired person, there are a lot of amazingly creative and brilliant people sitting in the midst of snowy white hair. What we see is what we view through the lens of our personally cultivated and highly valued interpretations about old people. We humans are such fascinating beings. We create all sorts of thoughts and impose them on the world we live in.

This article isn’t about promoting the Senior Center, because there are a lot of people who aren’t interested in the social aspect of the Center. This article is about how so many of us look at ourselves as separate and different, and how we may alienate others, even though they are just like us. This may be just too scary to accept.

Ageism like Racism, Sexism, Classism, any other -ISM, is based on beliefs, judgments, and assessments that quite often have nothing to do with the truth. All -ISMs involve a negative prejudgement, whose purpose is to maintain the sense of power and control within ourselves. In the Recovery Community, any -ISM stands for Inner Sh*t Maintained. Ouch. That hits home.

The other night, I had an interesting experience that serves this point. While brushing my teeth, I notice that my gums are receding. The term “Long in the Tooth” came up, and I was instantaneously triggered. This gum receding thing is just another indication that I am, indeed, getting old.

I climbed into bed, and because I’m not only writing these articles on aging and change, but also leading discussions on aging at the Senior Center, I kind of had to be with this experience with a little bit more attention. Sure the receding gums could be caused by something other than aging, but in that moment, aging is what got triggered.

By allowing myself to be with what was happening, I experienced what felt like an eruption of emotion, like lancing a boil or a cyst. Though highly uncomfortable, I had to be with all of what showed up.

Primarily, I experienced much of what I believe is just part and parcel of being human. The bottom line – in that moment, I experienced myself as a complete and utter failure; that this life and all its efforts has culminated into nothing. Deep humiliation arose, as did the “truth:” my life had no meaning and no value.

This all occurred because I looked in the mirror and noticed a dental issue. The rest was the inevitable unfolding of my interpretations of me, aging. Imagine what shows up when I walk into the Senior Center with all these unacknowledged thoughts and feeling? Like so many of us aging ageists, I spew all of my failings and meaningless humiliation onto those innocent individuals that are my target of disdain, because they are just like me, and I’m just like them.

The practice of what psychologists call projection allows each of us to deny the personal emotional “truth” about ourselves, and only see it in those outside ourselves. That moment when I experienced and acknowledged my deepest failure, humiliation, and meaninglessness, allowed me to see what I normally just project onto most white-haired people, not with compassion but with judgment and contempt.

Aging and agism resides within the eye of the beholder. Though projected out onto the external world, it usually has everything to do with one’s own personal resistance to acknowledging and accepting the truth of who they are within these wrinkled, baggy old bodies. It has absolutely nothing to do with those upon whom we impose judgments. We separate ourselves out, seeing ourselves being somehow different and better than others, even within our own age, race, class, sex, or political or religious positioning.

Aging gracefully requires that we take on the challenging task of being present and truthful with ourselves. I believe the hardest challenge of aging gracefully is to acknowledge that yes, indeed, in many ways we have failed. In many ways we have humiliated ourselves. In many ways our lives are not in alignment with what we imagined for ourselves. And, at times, life does seem meaningless. We accept the truth of all of this and surrender the critical self-judgments that burdens us with far more than just the aches and pains of everyday living.

As I examine the aging process, I am far more appreciative of what it takes for every individual to get out of bed every morning and face the unknowns of of the day. Humility replaces humiliation. Meaning is found in the simpler parts of life, and failures are surrendered, too. It takes courage to face every day, for all of us, not just those who are considered old and aging. We certainly aren’t sissies.

Who me? Aging?

If you’d like to join in the AGING – Who Me in-person discussions at the Senior Center, we are meeting this coming Tuesday – Mar. 14, from 1 – 2:30 p.m. For more information, or if you’d like to talk on a one to one basis, call Dr. Rosie Kuhn at 360-376-4323.

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Ageism Among the Aged – That’s Whacky! Aging | Who Me? — 6 Comments

  1. WOW Rosie, that is one powerful bit of writing! Thank you — most especially for paragraph beginning “Aging gracefully requires”…

  2. Thank you Susan. There is so much to this human experience,especially the aging part – regardless of how old we are. And, it keeps me present to this whole process from a much larger perspective.

  3. Thank you for your wisdom and honesty Rosie! Another Real article. I love being in any Native American gathering because of the way the Elders are treated, with great respect! They are Always the first to be seated and served at a dinner gathering, every Elder is always served first, usually by the young teens with great kindness and respect. The children are taught to cherish and respect the Elders as they are the Wisdom Keepers of the Tribe. When they tell a story that others have heard before, maybe many times, the Elder is not interrupted but is listened to with attentiveness because those “old stories” are the History of The People being handed down to the next generations to be Remembered and passed on to the young. Thank you Rosie for reminding me.
    It is unfortunate that Western Society worships the idea of “Youth” as if it encapsulates the Wisdom of the ages.
    Spirit Eagle

  4. Thank you, Rosie, for another insightful piece of writing on a challenging subject. At age 96, my widowed grandmother was the oldest resident in the assisted living home, where she needed to reside because of suffering reoccurring strokes. I recall her telling me, “I still want to flirt & dance & carry on like I did at 17, but here I am stuck in this old body.” Despite her recognition of her condition and fate, it didn’t stop her from having two “younger” men (in their 80s) vying for which one would get to escort her into the dining room at mealtimes. (She was smart and/or kind enough to alternate whose arm she would accept ~ thus extending the thrill for all.) What a model of gracious aging ~ honestly acknowledging the downside of her reality, while making the most of whatever time and abilities she still had!

  5. Thank you, Rosie. Your piece is a reason why, as we think about the future of Orcas, our community must be intergenerational. We have so much to learn from each other, from one end of the age continuum to the other. Let’s start with a change of the name: From Senior Center to Elder Center.