Older Persons, agents of change?

How do we see ourselves as we age, as we become older persons?

In views from an “outer world”, we could be filtered and categorized in several ways; chronologically ordered cohorts upwards from age 50.  Quite a broad spectrum, which includes centenarians. And in many cases, there is also the tendency to see older persons as a homogeneous group. The same ignorance works when we consider younger cohorts in much the same way.

Within the age-banding exercises, the documentary of the outer world-view of aging and an older persons’ identity is often refracted through a western world prism. Yet even North American and European sensibilities aren’t always the same regarding later life philosophies and lifestyle goals on an individual level. Nor at the community level are these views always the same when it comes to how we desire to construct our social structures through politics and policy.

More important for today and in tomorrow’s world; we must keep our perspectives in a constant reality check, with a much wider global view, in that we must consider that an older persons’ identity and experiences are shaped by multiple social conditions that vary by continent, country by country – some more challenging or grim than in our own western world.

Reading a recent October brief from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) tilted Leave No One Behind: Ageing, Gender and the SDGs, it really brought this whole thought to mind as a question – How do we see ourselves as we age, as we become older persons? Depending on what part of the world you are in and your socioeconomic condition, this obviously means that our views and experiences are not going to be homogeneous, even though it can be said that the actual aging process is universal.

In this UNDP brief, the global aging population is pegged at people aged 60 and older, still a broad spectrum. But seeing past the numbers here, the dialogue about the state of the world in developing countries is highlighted vividly; with older persons “in fragile settings” and “high risk for being left behind…at high vulnerability for violence, abuse, neglect….”

The subtexts in this narrative are numerous as you read this brief, and in light of all these challenges and more, the UNDP says –

“…there is an equal need to recognize older women and men as agents of change in their communities and contributors to national and regional economies.”

Later in this piece, one of the three key proposed principles for shaping policy enforces this need for –

“Promotion of a change in attitude in and towards older people as passive recipients of benefits, to active agents of change in their own lives and of those around them”.

In views from an “inner world”, how do we see ourselves as an agent of change?

Comparatively speaking in North America, in the part of the world I happen to live in, we have the capability to search that individual answer for ourselves, articulate it, engage in a shared public discourse and look for ways to contribute in our communities and economies. However sometimes I wonder if we get preoccupied or distracted by woeful tales we tell ourselves about the social strains of growing older, tales that pale beside the realities of those older persons less fortunate.

Perhaps we suffer more from not knowing how to sift through an abundance of choices we have, for ways in which we can demonstrate value and relevance, either at work or in the community and thus find our unique way in the world. So assuming we have our health and keep an agile mentality as we age, the choices are our opportunities, and through whatever process of assessment and discovery we take, the two essential guiding questions are – what change to we want to bring and how will we make a difference?

As a footnote, the reference to SDGs in the UNDP brief comes from their Sustainable Development Goals (established in 2015) for 2030. It is an ambitious menu to “transform the world” as they say. The toss out pitch for us is – identify with the issues that speak to you and find a way to individualize your experience where you want to be. Maybe if you look, there is a narrative that has woven its way through all of your life and there is no reason why it still can’t be found in the older person you are.

 

Mark Venning

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