How To Grow Old

Written By: Marcus Tullius Cicero (Roman)

Vocation: Orator, Statesman, Philosopher

Aging, perhaps particularly in America, is looked upon with a combination of dread and anxiety. Plastic surgery, Botox and many other quick fix approaches to looking young thrive off of the dread and anxiety of growing old. I have observed numerous individuals with lips that appear to be swollen from a punch, eyebrows that don’t move and noses that look like something out of a cartoon. Liposuction, rather than a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, is also quite popular. Add the above to the myriad fad diets and one can see why the illusion of staying young has produced such an economically lucrative industry.

I used the word “illusion” because it precisely describes these futile attempts to stay looking young. Psychologically, one falsely thinks that youth is tied more to appearance than actual vitality. If one looks young he or she will feel young. This simply is not true. What I find more interesting than the attempts to remain young, or look young, is the inability to age gracefully and with dignity. This was not always the case in the West. Western culture, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks, had respect for wisdom that came with age exuded by those seeking to live virtuously. They admired virtue and similar qualities in elderly people that were often less pronounced in younger people. Today we have mature adults doing everything they can to be “cool” rather than virtuous, imitators of young adults and teenagers rather than examples for them. Is it any wonder why many people 40+ years of age feel disrespected or irrelevant?

Personally, I believe that the onset of the Industrial Age sparked this worship for all things new and young. Then the Information Age (or Technological) took it to another level. The former Age ushered in mass production of goods on an unprecedented scale. New models and editions of everything became the established commercial paradigm. Appetites could now be manufactured and created. The latter Age has provided global scale for the mindset created by the former. It’s not the purpose of this post to go into greater detail on the impact of these two Ages on how we now grow old, but if you give it the slightest reflection you’ll see the connection. You should have a new car. You need a new face or look. You have to upgrade to the next model phone.

I want to recommend this short, but brilliantly written book, by Cicero called How To Grow Old. No matter your current age, this book will prove to be valuable to your understanding of aging. It does not idolize or idealize aging as our present culture has done with youth. Instead, it is a balanced exploration of aging through a creative dialogue among an esteemed elder and two younger men who have sought his counsel on the matter. You will note that the same objections, concerns and fears about aging today were being raised centuries ago. One significant difference between those times and ours regarding aging will be made apparent. In those days, there truly was an art of aging and today we have lost it…

-Sensei

 

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