What are your thoughts and experiences about “positive aging”? Can we create a “social movement”?
“Positive aging is a social movement.” I was speaking with a fellow participant at the 4th Annual Positive Aging Conference in Los Angeles in early December. I resonated with the idea of a social movement. After all, many of us in this generation have participated in other social movements: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. Why not a social movement to change the image of aging to a more enlightened and inspiring view from the “dreadful ‘D’ words” as Bill Sadler writes, “decline, disease, dependency, depression and decrepitude.” Unfortunately, many of us have internalized the models and norms that lead us to adopt the fears and attitudes, these ‘D’ words, like old scripts from the past. Participants in this lively conference, instead have followed new scripts for their 3rd acts: re-invention, rejuvenation, re-education, renewal and re-creation, offering inspiring role models for us all.
Concurrent sessions offered perspectives in creativity, life transitions, wellness and community. My business partner, Patricia, and I offered a concurrent session too, introducing the leadership practice called The Art of Convening, outlined in a new book by Craig and Patricia Neal. The Art of Convening (AOC) integrates the individual perspective with the whole of a community, group or gathering in authentic engagement. We demonstrated the AOC principles as we presented 3rd Act concepts from positive psychology and change and transition.
Keynote speakers provided inspiration, insight, research and encouragement . Ardie Bryant, recognized for decades of achievement as tap dance performer with legendary jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, Nat “King;” Cole, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker was such an inspiration showing us his talent in almost seven decades of dance experience. George Valliant, professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has researched adult development studying the lives of men and women for over 60 years, published his work in Aging Well. He suggested that aging is the progress of life and, like wine, we develop and mature with age, giving more of our focus to others and savoring our experience.
Marc Freedman, of Civic Ventures spoke to us about the changing face of retirement which we represent and the opportunities for us to contribute to our society. He spoke about how the world needs us, especially since aging brings us more capability for complex thought. Never before have we had the capacity, the numbers and the abundance to change the culture and contribute our talent to others. Nancy Anderson, a career and life consultant, author of Work with Passion: How to Do What you Love for a Living demonstrated her approach to using the life story drawn from at least two generations of the family to understand the complexity of her clients and to help them overcome the fears which create barriers to career success at any age. We know that many boomers and members of the traditional generation are re-creating and re-inventing their careers.
Despite all the positive view, one of the concurrent sessions I attended, reminded us of the current financial, unemployment, health and housing challenges that many over 50 are facing. The presenters encouraged us to expand the social movement and to consider applying our advocacy and activism expertise from past causes to address the institutional and societal ills and inequalities that fall hardest on the over 50.
Learning, engagement, networking and inspiration…all present at the Conference and ingredients for a social movement. As we continue our exploration of the new territory of positive aging and the 3rd Act, the best advice came from Professor Valliant who said, “When you come to a mine field and you see footsteps, follow them. Find someone who is 85 or older and pay attention to how they live their life.”