Pushing the Paradigm of Aging

My friend Linda has only recently discovered Gene’s work. She has been talking with her colleagues about mid-life transitions, and what it is going to mean for us as women. As she told me about her musings on this topic, I quickly went to the back of my Honda and handed her copies of Gene’s two books, The Creative Age and The Mature Mind. She couldn’t believe that I had material for exactly what she was thinking about in  – stored in boxes in the back of my car.

Here is what she wrote me as she became familiar with Gene’s work:

“We, the baby boomers, are becoming the “elders”. We are moving into this next life stage, which – to us – is associated with facing our mortality, thinking of it as the beginning of the end. We enter this phase – scared and often depressed – steered by the perspective of aging that we have spent a lifetime learning, which we are now using to define our own aging. We have grown up equating aging with a steady and steep deterioration. We know that our physical, mental and social selves will only get worse. There is no “silver lining” behind this cloud.

Now, here comes Gene and his science and his books, challenging our heretofore unquestioned ideas about the inevitability of our decline. He gives us an alternative way to think about our lives. But he meets with a lot of resistance. For example, when I enthusiastically told my friend about creative aging, as described in Gene’s books, he poo pooed it. His response was that “even if you change the attitude of one person, that person will revert when faced with the perceptions of the rest of society.”

Gene was trying to change a paradigm. He brought with him research and his vast experience to do it. But he was pushing his boulder up hill, knocking against walls of resistance defended by those of us who want to believe him, but can’t hear or see what he is trying to tell us because the vision of our potential is obstructed by our stereotypes. Many of us lack role models of elders who have taken the positive path that Gene describes in his book. He was up against a cultural paradigm that is as ingrained as were gender roles 50 years ago.

Wait! The current generation considers the gender stereotypes that were prevalent when we were children to be historical artifacts. But it took a generation for the paradigm to significantly shift. Attitudes about aging will also change. The science and the role models are evolving and they will lead in that direction. But will it be too late for us to reap the benefits? Will this large baby boom generation miss out? Will we spend this phase of our lives marching to the rhythm of our stereotypes without being able to break away……until it is too late?

I hope not…..We are a large enough societal force that we have the power to influence significant change. Gene and his followers are tapping away at our paradigms. But if we don’t also put our weight behind this effort and bulldoze through the walls of our ingrained perspectives, then we may, indeed, find that the benefits of his teaching will reach the next generation – but skip ours……”

Linda Sussman

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About the Author
Wendy Miller is a sculptor, writer, expressive arts therapist and educator. She has taught at JFK University, San Francisco State University, Southwestern College, Lesley College, California Institute of Integral Studies, and The George Washington University. She is the cofounder of Create Therapy Institute, which offers clinical services in arts-based psychotherapy and trainings in the expressive arts.

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