When I was a kid we were often told: “Respect your Elders!” Back then, respect was ‘earned’ by what you did, so this demand to respect elders by the standard of the day was to me a contradiction. I could appreciate the principle, but was constantly frustrated about having to respect people who were making choices and behaving in self-degrading or abusive ways that did not meet up to my own principles.
At the time I remember wondering, “Why should I respect people who got drunk, killed themselves with barbiturates, smoked cigarettes, lived on junk food, beat their wives, dumped anger and judgment on others, gossiped, cheated, lied, tried to be someone else…?” Of course every human must be respected as an equal, but this doesn’t remove the responsibility we have for the choices we make, no matter what age.
The elders I was told to respect were not role models that I aspired to become, or to look up to, in my growing years. It made me question where were the Elder role models that glow with the grace, wisdom, poise and responsibility that can come from age?
I have come to understand that An elder is a role model if they accept themselves for who they truly are, leave behind the harmful choices and irresponsibility that are considered to be the foolishness of the young, and really live their wisdom and grace.
And it is certainly true that ageing people who do not accept themselves for who they are, are less likely to embrace the wisdom and service they can bring as they age to become true role models. When they try to look artificially young in spite of the inevitable physical progress of ageing, they are (consciously or unconsciously) sending a poor message to younger people. A message that says:
- I’m not good enough
- Ageing is awful and to be avoided
- My self-esteem comes from how I look
- You have to fit in to the ideal of youthfulness or you’re nothing
- I wish I were still youthful like you, etc.
All this does is help spawn yet another generation who will feel pressured to do the same – clinging to youthful appearance and behaviours, acting irresponsibly, feeling less and less worthy based on their looks, sexuality and physical abilities, dreading illness and death, and being fearful of losing whatever youthfulness they have.
This non self-respecting behaviour by elders leaves younger people adrift in misconceptions and confusion about growing older and our changing roles throughout our lives.
Having said that, society goes to quite a lot of effort to keep elders down, feeling lesser, and trying to meet the youthful ideals. For example, there is a growing trend in women’s magazines of profiling the ‘sexy’ older woman in the same stereotyped style of modelling, photography and dress as for young women. Society’s message: keep conforming to ‘youth looks’ for as long as you can or you’re not beautiful or acceptable being old! Dye your hair, plaster on makeup, lift up those breasts, hide the sags, exude sexuality, and emphasize your body…. This is degrading enough for young women – imagine how older women truly feel about it?
Many of our elders have allowed themselves to be degraded and disregarded by the culture of youth worship, to the great detriment of society.
Why do we accept this degradation of the aging process? Imagine if all the elders expressed their true beauty, wisdom and power for the benefit of humanity? Oh boy, there would be a big shakeup of the status quo! The population would wake up to the lie that many of us have been living… and there are vested interests that would not like that, eg. the plastic surgery and cosmetics industries!
Not only elders are targeted by plastic surgery, cosmetic advertising, fashion and health magazines, etc, but younger people are too – with the pressure to “never look older no matter what,” until the maintenance of youthful appearance becomes a habit or even an addiction.
What would happen if the cosmetic services were all taken away – how would we be with facing the truth of how we have been living? Gone would be the artificial surface ‘beauty’. The consequences of our past choices could no longer be covered up.
It would be scary to let go of our ‘youth props’ and be exposed, vulnerable and seen as we really are: we would then have to derive our self-worth from our innermost instead of our outermost. For many, that change could be quite difficult and challenging. But what if, instead, we elders took responsibility for claiming our ageing beauty and wisdom as role models?
For myself, having always enjoyed my body, been very athletic, physically powerful and capable of doing just about anything, it is hard accepting the physical decline that comes with age. I know, I’ve been going through that, and am not entirely ‘out of the woods’ yet. It is difficult to let go and learn to be much more gentle and conscious of one’s body, no longer driving it, striving to achieve and experience like we once did. What I have learned is that refusal to accept the flow of nature comes with consequences – painful ones!
For me it’s been more limiting to deny ageing and try to power through it, injuring an increasingly delicate body and then being totally stopped, than it is to accept it, become gentle, tender, graceful and consciously present, and thus do no further harm. I do whatever I can to naturally support my body with nourishment and nurturing so it can be as well as it can and the inner wellbeing can show on the outside as my natural beauty.
I refuse to go the cosmetic surgery route, and won’t even dye my hair. When/if it ever goes grey it will be just as beautiful, and it will be my ‘badge of maturity’! That’s my choice of course; everyone is free to choose their colours and styles for self-expression. Maybe one day I’ll go violet and turquoise stripes just for fun, who knows!
Notwithstanding the, at times, frustrating aspects of an ageing body with its aches, pains and stiffness, I realise there are many great benefits of these increasing physical limitations of ageing – for there are no other limitations! This decline in physical abilities changes the focus on how I am living and what I now value more in discovering the real benefits of my elder years.
I am slowly and gradually switching the focus from how I look and what feats I can perform to living more and more gracefully, wisely and, in fact, soulfully. I am learning to break attachments to people and material things, to let go of ideals and beliefs, learning acceptance, understanding, and patience with myself and others.
It is giving me the opportunity to morph from a physical being living under the control of the chaos of the world to living from my innermost essence, seeing and doing life from the perspective of the soul.
This claiming of my elder years cycle is offered as a true role model for the younger generation to aspire to.
by Dianne Trussell.