Happy New Year! To start off the New Year, as we turn our thoughts to the future, of this year and maybe all years, it is a good time to revisit our visions. And to be inspired by what could be.
It is so important for us all to be seen and heard, and for each of us to look and listen to as many voices and faces as possible. We are all in this together.
In this spirit, I would like to start this year with the voice of Grace Carter, a voice that inspires me.
Grace is 20 years old. At the age of 18 she spoke at the closing session of the 2017 Pioneer Network conference. The vision of the Pioneer Network is “A culture of aging that’s life-affirming, satisfying, humane and meaningful“. Here is her speech. I hope it inspires you to dream big, to see, to listen, and to be seen and heard.
Hi. My name is Grace Carter.
To have to age in a western culture has strangely become more of a punishment than a privilege. As if “we” as a society are desperately holding onto childhood and therefore rejecting wisdom and experience. Although many of us, as children, dream of the exact same process. The collective “we” wanna grow up because grown ups get to do things and know things. So then why don’t the adults want to grow up and get to know things too? Is it a culturally ground-in sense of pretension?
I’m convinced when I meet someone who’s past perhaps fifty to sixty they have secrets. These aren’t the kind they’re hiding but the kind of stories and thoughts you would not believe even after many conversations, the kind that are awe-inspiring, fascinating or just surprising. You’ve lived enough to be multiple people, multiple versions of yourself which is something so strange it’s magical and extremely valuable. To imagine the possible tales someone in their nineties could then hold is amazing.
While of course the west isn’t alone in our culture’s mistreatment of elders, we’ve fallen into a mindset of mistreatment that many cultures haven’t. Greek, Native American, Korean and Chinese cultures, for example, see aging as something to be appreciated and honored. I think it’s partly fueled by today’s fast-paced, perfectionist mindset. We, particularly for my generation, as children judge ourselves off of our peers, celebrities and from the media. We look for physical perfection and destroy ourselves over our insecurities, so imagining ourselves losing our youth can feel disastrous. Then as you get older you see “anti-aging” products advertised and a continuation of the same demographical product push that makes people judge themselves and others. In a way, aging can be purely a physical concern. But with all that talk of physically decomposing that’s broadcasted, it can make one believe it’s not just a change happening in skin and muscles. It can feel like it’s also in someone as a person.
It certainly doesn’t help how divided age groups are. If we have no interaction outside of our age it can give any age group a sort of us versus them mentality. This even happens with a group of a year or two difference in high schools. As a high school senior you usually have little to no interaction with freshman so many people in my grade then view them as this single entity of “bleh”. They have a bad interaction with one and suddenly all fourteen or fifteen year olds have personally offended them. So with today’s children only having their interactions with their grandparents to go off of, if that, it’s no wonder the “old lady”, “old man” stereotypes are able to persist.
Personally, I’ve always known many more people outside of my age group then most, and well, understood people outside of my age much better than in it. So I’ve had more distance from the judgement of adults and elders that children can often be apart of. I’ve been to far more adult-days and nursing homes than most my age. I would consider my grandma, who’s ninety-two, to be my greatest childhood best friend though I never really considered her to be old. And I think I’ve just had better interactions with people older than me. I’ve been exposed to a wonder of aging. That doesn’t mean I’ve ever wanted to grow up, but I’ve understood that we should appreciate it. And as the younger generation who will be taking care of you, the older generation, shouldn’t we all be exposed? This seems to be an avenue of culture change that is easily ignored. All the good that simple exposure and personal connection between generations could achieve. It’s not elders’ fault that age equality isn’t as hip and exciting as feminism, but it’s still a similar form of equality that our society lacks.
I think you need a joyful, accepting, open mind to change these things and that starts with who we are as people. And I would like to think that mindset is what brings people to places like this. And that culture change has to come from a kind, inclusive place in someone, and that kindness can bring all age groups together. It can allow us to step out of our generational pits and connect with each other. Then if there is personal connection, if there is understanding, if there is empathy; then there’s no longer room for any kind of discrimination. Wouldn’t that be a good future?