I love to do crossword puzzles. I buy books of New York Times “Monday” puzzles because they are supposed to be the easiest. More times than not, they are laced with clues from more difficult puzzles. But that’s okay. I’ve learned I know more than I thought I knew. We all know a lot more than we think we know and much of what we don’t realize we know, has been learned just by living. We read, we listen, we interact with others, watch TV, get involved in the Internet and social media — we absorb so much in so many ways, not aware that we are remembering what we see and hear. Not only do we subconsciously remember what we see and hear, we make all kinds of decisions as a result of “unaware absorption” and some of those decisions can be life changing.
It occurred to me that “unaware absorption” affects how we think about aging and how we think about our own aging process. The reality is, most of us don’t think about our own aging process in terms of “what can I do to control or manage it”. We accept aging as “it is what it is”. Because of beliefs acquired through “unaware absorption” we “know” that certain things about aging are “true” and can’t be changed. Those things that we “know” to be “true” are often nothing more than set in stone traditions left over from flat earth beliefs and cultural norms we have been conditioned to accept as inviolable. The assumption is that everyone gets old and the older we get, life becomes more of a crap shoot. Our genes, the environment, karma, or whatever, takeover and nothing can be done about it. Aging “is what it is”.
Many destructive myths about aging are so pervasive and so deeply embedded in traditions and current cultural norms that anyone thinking differently about aging and what contributes to decline that could be avoided or corrected, is marginalized or ignored. After all, everybody gets old. “It is what it is”. How dare anyone think differently!
“It is what it is” is group think and you don’t have to participate in it, or be victimized by it!
Here is one significant example of what I’m talking about. Ever since passage of the Social Security Act in the 1930s, a well defined retirement mindset and lifestyle has developed with financial and business interests making major contributions to the shaping and development of the mindset and lifestyle. It’s leisure oriented (of course it is — it is “retirement”). The mindset and lifestyle give credence to the mantra heard during the work years, “If you work all you life you deserve your retirement.” When the time comes, everybody else your age is doing it so it’s the right thing for you to do, too, even if you are healthy and not keen about giving up a nice income in exchange for mind-dulling leisure and paltry Social Security checks. Welcome (or not) to group think and social conditioning.
After you start collecting your Social Security checks, cultural group think starts to “talk” to you in earnest. There are constant reminders in so many overt as well as subliminal ways that you are getting old, that it’s time to enjoy what’s left of life. Perhaps it’s time to move to Saucy Seniors Retirement Village where you can be with peers who share your interests and frame of mind. With your neighbors you can play golf, tennis, shuffleboard and other “stay busy” activities. If that’s not enough, there is a variety of planned activities a mile long to keep you busy 24/7. Yes indeed, it’s fabulous. Why didn’t you do it sooner?
And then, reality kicks in. As time goes on, you realize that maybe it’s not so great after all. You start to wonder, “Why did I do this at all”?
Everybody in the “Village” thinks alike and looks alike and by gosh, as neighbors have declined with age in various ways, some are no longer fun to be around. If you are fortunate enough to have escaped the ravages and assaults of heredity, unexpected health issues, and of time, you get tired of hearing about aches and pains of neighbors at community events. Or, try living with neighbors who are so bored they create problems to make themselves feel useful. Look around — there isn’t an inspiring youthful face to be seen. If grandkids come to visit and make too much noise, shattering the tomb-like quiet, or rides a tricycle into someone’s flowers, the self appointed community crime fighter yells at them.
Every time I write an article critical of regimented retirement living, I get feedback, and not all of it is complimentary, and I understand. No one wants to be told that how they live is not the best way to live. I get it, and apologize to those who may be offended.
It’s just that don’t like to see old people in decline, their potential having been forfeited for an enticing but decline oriented lifestyle chosen early on, not fully aware of the effect of the decision “down the road”. (I am certain Del Webb and other retirement community developers thank those folks who fell for the lure of eternal fun and happiness in segregated isolation “exclusively for old people”, and made the developers very wealthy.)
If you are not yet retired or in early retirement and in good health, think carefully about how you want to live the rest of your life, understanding that you may have many more years than you thought possible. Instead of doing what most others do, or what’s culturally expected, do something radically different that you always wanted to do but didn’t have time. You don’t have to move to another location. You can start an exciting new life, living right where you are. The post retirement years can be some of the most fulfilling if you take charge of your own thoughts and decisions early on. If your mental and physical condition are sound, a truly exciting second life is possible when you can identify and avoid group think and the power of “unaware absorption” that today, controls so much of our lives.