PUMPING IRONY: As Revolutionary as It Gets

As my big brother turns 70, my thoughts turn to self-preservation, not social action.

It’s The General’s 70th birthday tomorrow, so I guess it’s fitting that this particular milestone (my big brother has now outlived our dad by 10 years; a harbinger of hope for the rest of us) occurs hard on the heels of my Geezerville experience of last week. I’ll certainly give TG a call and invite him to lift a cold one with my congratulations, but I’ll also give some thought to the kind of culture-bending aspirations I encountered in Sarasota.

The Conference on Positive Aging was jam-packed with activists and scholars and in-the-trenches soldiers who want to see a shift in the cultural zeitgeist around aging. They want society-at-large (including politicians, public health leaders, policy-makers of all stripes) to begin acknowledging — and debunking — long-held stereotypes of the elderly: that older adults are a burden, that they have nothing to contribute, etc. And, perhaps more importantly, they want people at every stage in life to begin to rethink what it means for themselves to grow old.

“We live in a world that does not have a role for elders,” Ronald Pevny of the Center for Conscious Eldering told us at a workshop last Tuesday. “But that doesn’t mean that the call to elderhood is not there. It’s in our genes.”

The Baby Boomer Revolution

Mr. Pevny is a true believer. He, like dozens of other activists I encountered in sunny Florida, is convinced that us geezers are poised to mobilize the most powerful social revolution since the 1950s civil rights movement, one that will profoundly alter the way Americans grow old. I hope he’s right, but I have my doubts. There are plenty of reasons why we should all pay more attention to our health and fitness as we enter middle age and beyond; it’s all about self-preservation. Even The General keeps an eye on his blood pressure. But I’d venture to assert that the older you get the less concerned you become about how the culture perceives you and the less you are inclined to put much energy toward a social movement.

I could be wrong, but what I see when I look at my elders are folks who are working overtime to maintain their independence, make a difference among the people and organizations that mean the most to them, and try to leave a legacy they can be proud of. None of this leaves a lot of time or energy for engaging in transformative social change.

That’s not to say that I don’t wish Ronald Pevny and his fellow activists the best of luck in their pursuit of a new “gray revolution.” It’s just that, when it comes right down to it, watching my big brother hit 70 is about as revolutionary as it gets.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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