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How Should We Change Aging in 2015?

Mighty revolutions from little resolutions grow.

What's your relationship with aging?

It’s that time again, when we are pressured culturally to make a new start in our lives. It’s an annual rite that supports the adage “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”

Right off, I’ll admit that I’m terrible at keeping New Year’s resolutions, probably because they are made on January 1. Any acorns I’ve planted on that day have never turned into saplings, let alone trees. I’m far more likely to commit to goals when I make them at any time of the year and for reasons inspired by immediate needs and introspection rather than prodded by social convention.

However, years ago I established for myself a set of four resolutions that I have managed to keep on a regular –– if not exactly daily –– basis. I promised to try, as often as possible, to 1) create something, 2) maintain something, 3) repair something, and 4) let go of something.

“Creating” can mean just about anything: writing a letter to a friend, reading a certain book for the first time, following a new recipe –– you get the picture.

“Maintaining” is preserving the value or integrity of something, such as when attending regular meetings of a group, changing the oil and filter on a car, or following an exercise routine.

“Repairing” is easiest to identify; something is broken, and we fix it, such as gluing together the vase that accidentally fell from the table or apologizing to a friend for having said something thoughtless or judgmental.

"Letting go” can be the toughest resolution to keep, because we get attached to things, relationships, beliefs, and even emotions. Luckily, most of us have experienced the physical value and mental relief of occasionally cleaning out the closets of our homes, or minds.

By now you may have realized that these categories overlap. For example, by maintaining an exercise routine, you also might be repairing your body in some way (losing weight, rehabilitating a joint, etc.). By creating a letter to a friend, you help to maintain that relationship. And discovering (creating) or revising (repairing) options for your life can help you to let go of older ones that no longer work for you.

All of these are personal, individual commitments. But what if we applied these four types of resolutions to the way our society views aging and interacts with older adults? Let’s face it: Today, aging is usually viewed as something to dread and avoid as long as possible. There are many ways we can resolve to change aging in 2015, on a personal level and in society. Here are my four suggestions:

Repair something. There’s so much that needs repairing regarding how we treat elders in our culture, but for starters, I’d suggest that we fix the notion that older adults can’t do things as well as younger people. We need to develop a more nuanced view of aging that recognizes some of the gradual physical and cognitive losses that can occur with age and then balance them with a newer and stronger appreciation of the gains (yes, gains) that aging brings, such as greater multi-perspective problem-solving skills and wisdom gleaned from accumulated knowledge and experience. Personally, I resolve to help in this repair process by kindly calling out anyone who makes an ageist joke or comment in my presence and explaining some of those gains.

Maintain something. We need to keep supporting organizations and individuals dedicated to the changing aging movement. If we look around diligently, we’ll find many people and groups to support. As an individual, I resolve to more actively share with others any supportive links or valuable articles that I find.

Let go of something. No contest here: As a culture, we need to let go of our obsession with youth. Yes, young people are wonderful and do wonderful things. But the same can –– and should –– be said about older adults. And yes, “new and improved” products and services can benefit our lives, but so can a wiser use of traditional products and services that have a track record of success. And, please, can we get rid of our fear of wrinkles and gray hair? That fear reflects the greater fear of being classified as a member of a group whose “club” society has deemed uncool. Appreciation of youth and old age needn’t be an either-or proposition. Both can be honored for their proper places in the lifespan. Personally, I resolve to connect more directly and more often with younger people so that I might help dispel some of their dread of old age –– and learn something new about them and myself in the process.

I’m hopeful that the result of such resolutions will be the creation of something: a more humane society that reaps the benefits provided by the unique abilities and perspectives of our elders.

Mighty revolutions from little resolutions grow. So I’ll ask you: How should we change aging in 2015? What should we create, maintain, repair, and let go of? And what might you do as an individual to help achieve these goals? _______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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