Busting the myths of 'ageing' and 'old'
"There is much we humans can learn from trees about ageing."
The article below has been written by Peter Nicholls, also known as Australia's People Gardener.
"A tree doesn’t stop growing at 65, or any other pre-determined age, nor do we. Its ability to grow isn’t divided into work and leisure. It can grow well beyond 100 years, health and people permitting. An ageing tree is valued by the whole of its surrounding natural world - birds, creatures and insect life - for providing a home, shade, shelter and food. For us it becomes a majestic feature in every person’s life.
Typically a tree’s root system is one and a half times the height and depth of what you can see. This gives the tree stability and all its required resources to continue growing. We measure its strength not in what we can see but in the depth we can’t see.
Although such a tree has aged greatly, we never call it old. In fact the more a tree ages the more we call it significant. And not just because of its size and grandeur. It’s valued economically and legally for its rightful importance in the nature of things.
Like the tree you have been growing and ageing since the day you were born. Your strength is not in what people can see but in your hidden depth, understanding and wisdom. The word ‘old’ is inappropriate. Truly you are a person of value and dignity. You are significant.
The Problem - Age Discrimination
Simply, western society has been divided up into “us young people” and “those old people”. As the population ages so we are being increasingly told that “those old people” are of little practical use in the 21st-century era of rapid change, new technology and the innovative thinking required to deal with 21st-century issues. What’s more, ‘they’ have stopped paying taxes and are overloading the health system.
You get the picture.
Dear reader, it is all perception. This paper aims to:
- give some arguments as to why it is all based on myths relating to the use of the terms ‘old’, ‘ageing’ and ‘retiring’
- what we not only can do to change it but will have to do so.
The World of Ageing is Changing
the numbers of people over 65 are growing faster than those under 65 and this will continue for decades to come. It has become an urgent issue everywhere, especially in the more heavily populated countries. The actions being taken by these countries – and the United Nations – can broadly be described as:
- finding better ways of dealing with the health and wellbeing services offered to people over 65
- finding ways of keeping people over 65 actively involved in serving the needs of a changing society
- busting the myths that underlay the existence of age discrimination
In 2016 the SA Government backed what was being called the Ageing Well Revolution, with the Economic Development Board program running a “Shaping the Future of Ageing” workshop. An interesting finding from this well-attended workshop was that none of the issues discussed could be said to be age-related.
This was followed by the SA Government hosting an International Ageing Well Conference in 2017 with speakers from various overseas countries reporting on how they are dealing with the relevant issues. From that came the establishment in 2018 of the Global Centre for Modern Ageing based here in Adelaide at Tonsley. The GCMA has established strong international links with related organisations including the relevant arm of the United Nations.
we are experiencing a change in our relationship between ageing and leading a full life. Until the last hundred years or so we expected to be dead within a decade of leaving work. So why worry about planning for life after work?
Now we can statistically at least expect to live many years longer, for some of us as many years as our working lives. This is fortified by the improvements in medical science and health care, the era of the baby boomers who want to stay forever young at heart and a dislike of the word “retire” and what that term conjures up in the minds of many working people.
The solutions are simple to state but require widespread education to be successfully implemented. We need to change the public perceptions of :
The following graph shows the way we have traditionally perceived the process of ageing. It suggests we reach a zenith in our growth after which we gradually decline towards eventual death. It’s a major factor in why we resist this concept of ageing.
We age continuously from birth to death. It doesn’t begin at some humanly determined stage of our lives , eg when we leave fulltime work.
If we are to embrace and capitalize on the global ageing revolution, we need to see the process of ageing from the more natural perspective, as follows:
Birth 20 40 60 80 ??
Accumulated knowledge, depth of understanding life/people, perspective, insight, wisdom
Old is a Perception, not a Fact.
While ageing is a fact of life, ‘old’ is a perception you can reject. When does old begin? When you become a parent (the kids call you ‘the olds’)? When you leave the competitive sport at age 30 (you are too old)? When you can’t get a job because you are over 50 (over 40?)? Anyone 15 years or more “older” than you? Old is a perception, usually of others (of any age) and usually negative.
Age discrimination is based on any person’s perception of dividing society into “those old people” and “us young people”. It’s a myth the busting of which is essential if we are to embrace the global ageing revolution as a positive asset in 21st-century human progress and development.
The dictionary still defines retire as withdraw, go back, retreat, stop – all the negatives that substantiate working peoples’ fears that stopping work means stopping living with purpose. More and more, people don’t want to retire because:
- The long-held belief that work is the way to success in life (not just in money)
- It's honourable to work and even more so if you work hard and long
- Work gives you a public identity - your answer to the popular social question “what do you do?”
- The desire to maintain the lifestyle one has earned through their work
- …and you can add your own personal reasons.
I found a phrase to replace retirement: “what’s for dessert? I’ve finished the main course and I’m still hungry!”. It’s about seeing life like a three-course meal – entrée (the years of preparing for work), the main course (your working career) and dessert (life after you leave work). Whether or not people want to keep working, they want to keep living life to the full. A whole new vocabulary is emerging about what people are doing with their lives when they get to and past the traditional retirement age – reinvent, encore career., second (or third) life are just some of the descriptions being used.
Even the sense of life in three stages is losing its appeal. I suggest the baby boomers may well be the last generation to feel the need to deal with the “stop/start” idea of retirement.
We age continuously and steadily from birth to death.
We measure age in years, but we measure growth in our increasing and expanding depth of understanding, perspective, insight and wisdom.
This scenario allows no place for ‘old’ and also eliminates the ‘stop/start’ concept of stopping growing at 65 or any other socially-determined age.
This busts all the myths on which age discrimination has for too long been allowed to fertilize and grow.
We are on the cusp of a global ageing well revolution that has the scope to capitalize on the awareness and wisdom of our ageing population."
Find out more at the Australia's People Gardener website.