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Aging for Life: Talk to me
Dr. Bill Thomas’s incredible book, Second Wind¸ helps make sense of three possible approaches to aging currently stalking the land. His categories are exceptionally useful for sorting all the books, articles, products, and attitudes about aging that swirl around us all the time. His categories also help us assess—and evaluate, and maybe change—our own mind-set. Here goes:
Are you a Denialist?
Denialists are so freaked out by aging they just pretend they can avoid it. They buy the argument that we can defeat aging in our lifetime (see Aubrey de Grey), and funnel tremendous resources—time, money, and life energy— into finding ways to stop the clock until the “cure” for aging can be found. This hope is doomed, and is a perfect dark reflection of our viciously ageist culture.
Sidebar: “life expectancy” vs. “longevity”
Thomas makes an important distinction that Denialist gurus often intentionally confuse, between “life expectancy” and “longevity.”
“Life expectancy” is the average age a population of people can be expected to reach. Life expectancy in the west has increased dramatically because of great wins against early killers like infant mortality, infection, and communicable disease.
“Longevity,” in contrast, is the maximum number of years a human being can live. Longevity--a mixture of genes, environmental factors, and luck—has not increased appreciably in the last couple centuries. Dr. Thomas writes, “Even if we make stunning breakthroughs in gene therapy or other medical advances, we will not alter the reality that aging is tightly bound to the experience of being alive.”
Denialism is widespread, like the blind desperation about aging it reflects.
Are you a Realist?
Realists accept the fact of aging and death. They just think the whole thing is incredibly unfortunate. They’re all about sensible ways to stave off the ravages of age: fiber, sensible shoes, moderate exercise, Sudoku, and so forth. To be clear: there’s nothing wrong with all of those things! The Realist mis-fire is the mood: the heavy-heartedness of it all.
Are you an Enthusiast?
Here’s the Enthusiast creed: Aging is real, inevitable, and good. Enthusiasts—a rare breed, but growing in number—embrace the unique potential of the third stage of life—after childhood and adulthood, elderhood.
American culture is so ageist it’s almost impossible to conceive of true Enthusiasm about aging. But it’s possible—and the only desirable path. Enthusiasm is joyful, kind, insightful, and growth-filled—the stance toward aging that is most rewarding and will win the most converts, because of its generosity.
It’s a journey
I personally have moved through Denialism into Realism, and am working on becoming an Enthusiast. I think it’s a journey we all struggle through. Check out my Books section to find some good guides, including This Chair Rocks!, Second Wind, and Conscious Living, Conscious Aging. And let me know what you’re thinking.
Aging for Life: Talk to me