Map your own course

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It is interesting to note how rarely the term development is used to describe changes in the later years. Despite current emphasis on a lifespan perspective, change in later years is still typically described as aging. In the same way, although the word day can refer to the twenty-four-hour span, we normally use it to refer to only the brighter hours.

Aging has come to refer to the darker side of growing older. To make changes in later life one must fight against all sorts of popular mindsets.

Much of what older people experience could be the result of negative stereotypes, internalized in childhood. We do not know how many of the "infirmities of age" are actually genetically programmed into our bodies, or how many may be due to premature cognitive commitments.

Premature cognitive commitments are like photographs in which meaning rather than motion is frozen. When a child hears about stiff, testy old people, the snapshot is processed as is. The child has little stake in the issue. Later, in old age, the grown-up child may not question the image.

The original picture can become the foundation for everything that is learned about old age. Even when corrected, so much else has been built on this foundation that a new attitude is difficult to form.

Our own mental picture of age, based on hundreds of small premature cognitive commitments, will shape the life we lead in our own late adulthood. We do not know how many more serene or exciting options for living one's later life might be conjured up if our minds were open to them.

By unquestioningly assuming that old age means frailty and weakness, we expect little of the old people around us, and of ourselves as we grow older.

When we are behaving mindlessly, that is to say, relying on categories drawn in the past, endpoints to development seem fixed. We are then like projectiles moving along a predetermined course. When we are mindful, we see all sorts of choices and generate new endpoints. Mindful involvement in each episode of development makes us freer to map our own course.

... we might do well to explore the ways that we have been taught to grow old.

[Ellen Langer]
Mindfulness, p.55, 56, 92, 96, 97-8


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Respect your Selves
Don't commit to it

Guiding Fiction

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