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We’ve Moved….

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/15/07

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Jim Selman

Posted in Culture of Aging | 1 Comment »

Intergenerational Dialogue

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/12/07

If we had the means to promote an intergenerational dialogue, what would we talk about?

I think we’d first have to acknowledge that:

• Neither generation has a lock on truth AND
• Neither of us knows more than the other.

While we may have a bit more experience in some areas, younger people know a lot more in others. I learned from my son that he knows a lot more than I do about modern philosophy, about dealing with uncertainty and about participating in online communities of interest. He has even had more experience than I have had with extremely stressful situations. I never had to deal with multiple friends dying of drugs or suicide, fear of Columbine-type shootings, or a pace of technology and social change that made everything obsolete before I even learned it.

I think an intergenerational dialogue would include conversations about life and our concerns. I think we could share our mutual experience and worldviews, perhaps even come to understand that age is not a divide so much as a perspective on life and that we have much to contribute to each other. I need to learn what my children already know, what they take for granted, for me to stay connected and involved in a relevant way. They need to learn from me how to keep participating and not get sucked into resignation should some of their dreams fail to materialize.

Together, we might even find a way for all of us to make a difference and participate in creating a world in which we all vote and take pride in what we are doing together….

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Generations

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/11/07

We speak of ‘generations’ as if they are homogenous groupings of like-minded people who see the world in more or less the same way. I don’t know about this. I think there are as many intra-generational differences as there are inter-generational differences. I think that what may be distinct is how the young and the old differ in respect to time. The young have a lot more of it to look forward to than we do. The patterns of youthful enthusiasm, idealism and energy seem to be pretty much the same from one generation to the next. Whether their ideals are liberal or conservative doesn’t seem to matter. On the other hand, my generation is busy planning for retirement, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives and taking stock of what we’ve accomplished or neglected over the past four decades or so. As a body politic, I’d say we’ve got a fairly even distribution of interests and views across the generational divide.

I am in favor, however, of building ways to facilitate and promote what I would call an ‘intergenerational dialogue’…conversations that might open new possibilities for society as a whole and empower people, regardless of their age, to participate more fully in the political process. In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, only 78.5% of the voting age population went to the polls (down from 78.9% in 2000)1. In Canada, only 64.9% voted in the 2006 federal election (a modest improvement over the 60.9% witnessed two years earlier)2.

Do we just not care?

Judging from the amount of political noise on the internet, a lot of people care a lot. And yet, I wonder if these people voted on election day or if they were sitting in front of their computers at home complaining to whoever would listen online about the state of the world?


1 The Impact of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 on the Administration of Elections for Federal Office 2003-2004. June 30th 2005. Report to Congress from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (PDF, 1.4Mb)2 Voter Turnout Up. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News. January 24, 2006.

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Rearview Mirrors

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/8/07

We’ve all experienced the wisdom that comes with hindsight. It’s easy to have 20-20 vision after the fact, to achieve clarity and perspective on our lives and choices in retrospect. What is sometimes less obvious to us is how much of our day-to-day actions, behavior, moods and feelings are a function of the past.

As I grow older, I find myself appreciating how much of the way I see the world is shaped by my past. When you think about it, this implies that the older I get, the more past I have to draw on to shape my worldview and the easier it becomes to just do whatever it is I automatically do based on the way I see things. I begin to lose touch with the fact that my point-of-view is not the truth—it’s just a composite of my individual and cultural history.

I see this in organizations all the time. After all, what is budgeting if not projecting the past into the future, calling it a ‘forecast’ and then organizing plans and allocating resources based on the forecast? Most of the time, the results are pretty close to the forecast or we have a big excuse or explanation of why it doesn’t happen. We rarely say that the forecast was wrong, and we never question the value and relevance of forecasting itself. The reason for this is that we believe we need to “know” what will happen in order to control what happens. I wrote an article called Managers Anonymous that suggested the whole culture of management is addicted to control and prediction, which, in effect, turns planning into a practice of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am suggesting here that most of us live our lives in the same way. We make commitments and take actions based on the past. We are driving our lives by looking in the rearview mirror! Now this would not be a problem if nothing changed or if things changed very slowly, because what we’ve learned from past experience would apply in the present and theoretically lead to better decisions and outcomes. The problem occurs when the world is changing faster and faster, making the past a less reliable basis for making decisions. We are more and more likely to have collisions and unpredictable surprises that, at best, are sources of tremendous stress and anxiety and, at worst, are disasters.

I think older people have always had some difficulty understanding and relating to the young, but I think the differences have been more along the lines of attitudes and behaviors rather than the kinds of profound differences we observe today. One of my friends mentioned the other day that, in her experience, what the Boomers want is to be cool, to be on top of what is happening in all sorts of areas. I think what she was saying is that we all want to feel like we are current, relevant and engaged in the world.

When we become disconnected (for whatever reasons) or can’t relate to or understand contemporary culture, we begin to withdraw into what we do understand and what we can and do relate to—the past. We become increasingly fixated on the rearview mirror, increasingly blind to the world around us and all the possibilities that are available if we can observe and create them for ourselves.

The answer isn’t to ignore or try to forget the past. That would be nonsense and we can’t really do it anyway.

We need to distinguish between our commitments to creating the future and the past. We need to ask the question, “Do our commitments create the future or does our past-based view (rearview mirror) of the future determine or limit what we commit to?” George Bernard Shaw summed up this idea when he said:

Reasonable people adapt themselves to the circumstances. Unreasonable people adapt the circumstances to themselves. Real progress depends upon unreasonable people.

If we only commit to what is reasonable, then by definition we will get more of the same.

So are we going to live reasonably for the next 20 to 30 years of our lives—driving by our rearview mirrors? If so, then we will predictably inherit the culture of aging and the realities that go with it.

If not, then we have a possibility of inventing a new reality, giving new meaning and purpose to what growing older can be. We could drive our lives using the steering wheel and truly be able to explore different possibilities.

The choice is ours.

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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Not Old Enough

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/3/07

I was speaking with a woman today, probably in her late 20s, who is an officer in the military. She is a graduate of one of the military academies and presumably someone the government doesn’t want to lose. She has a both a big vision for change and a seriously self-limiting conversation about what she is and is not able to accomplish in a big bureaucracy at her age (and rank, which amounts to pretty much the same thing in the military). In the absence of a change in her internal conversation about her future, she will probably leave the service early and we’ll lose a potentially very strong leader.

I was struck by how the absence of possibility in her situation looks very much like the same lack of conversation I hear from people my age because we are too old! This phrase is a kind of self-imposed ageism and can occur at any age. It is part of our cultural blindness regarding age and the belief that age is somehow a determining criteria for what we can and cannot accomplish and what is and is not possible.

My view is that a big part of what keeps us stuck in these beliefs is due to the fact that few of us distinguish between the state of our body (at any age) and who we are. Our “mindset” is deeply programmed with the thought-belief that we are our age, even if we intellectually reject this notion. This is the source of ageism—a lack of distinction between the fact of our biological age and the possibility we are as human beings. This perspective is consistent with our culture’s larger worldview (technically known as the Cartesian paradigm) that defines human beings as objects. Once we buy into this notion, we then organize all of our theories and practices to be consistent with this belief. We create ‘human resources’ departments, we create schools of psychology to explain how the person/thing works, and we assess the value of the person/thing in pretty much the way we assess the value of our automobile—most are looking for new and shiny and a few prefer a classic antique.

Ageism (whether of the young or the old) is a cultural ‘reality’ in which our possibilities and practices are organized on assumptions of value based on age.

This interpretation occurs for us both as individuals, as in the example above, and also as a society. For example, to the extent that ‘older’ people in an organization are not open to contributions by the young reveals a kind of cultural or institutional ‘blindness’ that perpetuates and limits possibilities based on age.

My argument against ageism isn’t so much because of its impact on the mood or dignity of the individual (although it can often be significant) as it is based on the extraordinary waste of creativity, talent and human energy that is lost to the organization or society. Between the old and the young, we are squandering roughly half of humanity’s potential contribution.

Obviously there are no simple answers to the fact of ageism any more than there are simple answers to any cultural phenomenon. I do believe, however, in the ‘critical mass’ theory which suggests that when enough people adopt an alternative worldview to conventional wisdom (or a prevailing paradigm), then the whole culture transforms … and what was previously a ‘far out’ idea becomes the mainstream understanding of ‘the way it is’.

Today at the beginning of 2007 we might take a moment to think about where each of us individually stands on the matter of age and its relevance for us personally and in our relationship with others.

My stand is to constantly remind ourselves that ‘who we are is more important than how old we are’.

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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Staying Young

Posted by Jim Selman on 01/2/07

There was a show on public TV today about 20 tips to staying young. It is the theme in a zillion magazine articles at the grocery checkout that are, not surprisingly, targetted to the graying celebrities and Baby Boomers. The problem I have is I don’t like the phrase ‘staying young’. It reveals the context in which we all live—a context in which growing older is a negative part of our lives, a phase to be accepted but put off as long as possible. This is the culture of decline I have spoken about in other postings.

I think most of us ‘feel’ younger than we think we are supposed to feel at whatever age we are now. But this fact makes my point. How old is it supposed to feel when you are 60 or 70 or 80? Maybe we’re supposed to feel this way as we age. In their book Younger Next Year, Crowley and Lodge give a pretty convincing argument and lots of evidence that, with exercise and a reasonable diet, none of us have to deteriorate at all and we can feel better and better as we age.

My theory is that the ego doesn’t get older and spends the last half of its life in denial or resistance to changes in the body that occur naturally. This is a major source for the negative aspects of aging—we get what we resist.

What if we just let our bodies grow older and committed ourselves to being the age we feel without concern for what we should be feeling or how we should be acting? What if by simply living life to the fullest and continuing to create possibilities we could have all that we would hope to have by ‘staying young’—not as a function of resistance or denial, but as a choice?

I am fine with however people choose to live, including how they may choose to grow older. I only get interested when I realize that I am living in a cultural interpretation that is sufficiently powerful and transparent as to rob me of choice—a culture that defines me by my age rather than my commitments and actions. This is the same gripe that people who have been marginalized or discriminated against for any reason have always had. I guess it’s my turn now.

© 2007 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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Age Discrimination II

Posted by Jim Selman on 12/12/06

I am against trying to ‘legislate’ or ‘regulate’ good behavior. I don’t think people respond very well to rules that are ‘good for them’—whether it is anti-smoking legislation, ‘dietary’ packaging, or sanctions on putting condom machines in high schools. People will, at best, comply, but the underlying problems and cognitive blindness persists for decades (if not forever). The result is institutionalized secrecy, hypocrisy, black markets and lack of transparency in government and everyday life.

Having said that, I also don’t think we can or should tolerate public policies or corporate practices that undermine or violate our constitutional liberties or standards of common decency. It is against the law to discriminate people because of age. The numbers of Equal Opportunity complaints against businesses is at an all-time high and increasing dramatically. Discrimination isn’t new and is often deeply embedded in corporate cultures. Yet, I wonder, why age discrimination?

In the past, one might argue that older people were inflexible, infirm, perhaps slower than younger people, but this clearly is not the case today when people in their 60s are more often than not as vital and as capable as people in their 40s. I thought for a while that it might be because of an ethic that the old needed to step aside to make room for younger workers who have families and young children to care for. But with almost 1/3 of the population approaching 60 in the coming years, this doesn’t make much sense either. Perhaps the notion might be that older workers are “short term” due to health risks or death, in the same sense that we used to hear that discrimination against women was justified because they could become pregnant and quit to raise children. But this too doesn’t stand up in a world of constant downsizing and an increasingly transient workforce.

I think that age-related discrimination is more like a bad habit—it’s old thinking that hasn’t caught up with the realities of today’s aging population. We are told the traditional retirement age came into being when Kaiser Wilhelm created a retirement program for his public service. He picked age 65 as the age at which people became eligible for payments because the actuarial realities of his day suggested that most would not live to collect on the promised pension. The point is that age is a false distinction. We have the opportunity to transform the culture of aging in general from one of anticipating decline to one of possibility and choice. One of the first areas where this transformation can show up is by elimination of age discriminatory practices in the workplace.

This will not come to pass by attempts to enforce rules or create new legislation. It will happen quickly and easily when a critical mass of the 70 million ‘Baby Boomers’ say “No” to discrimination and “Yes” to what we have to offer. If we don’t buy into the story of discrimination based on age and if we simultaneously take responsibility for it where it does exist, then we can be the agents for change. We can transform our culture and create possibilities for all workers—regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, physical challenges and AGE.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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Choice and Time

Posted by Jim Selman on 12/7/06

The more time I spend in this conversation about ‘the rest of your life’, the more I begin to question the questions. I find I am torn: my ‘gung ho’ enthusiasm to empower seniors to make a difference and to help midwife a transformation of the aging paradigm from one of decline to one of possibility and sufficiency encounters a kind of acceptance (even resignation) that everything will all work out in the end and that I should devote the rest of my life to writing, art and the leisure pursuits that please me.

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Labels and Gender

Posted by Jim Selman on 11/28/06

Most of the attempts to categorize people who are older (“temporally challenged”, seniors, golden oldies and so forth) are usually attempts to find a label to make a state or condition that most people relate to as ‘negative’ seem nicer. Ronni Bennett has some interesting thoughts about language and how our labels often reveal a lot about how we observe and relate to others and the world in general. I agree with her that most of it is nonsense, and I like the term Elder.

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Age Discrimination

Posted by Jim Selman on 11/24/06

Age discrimination is probably one of the last forms of negative stereotyping left—perhaps even the subtlest. It wasn’t so long ago that color, sexual orientation and gender were in the spotlight. Now, as 70 million of us are becoming the dominant demographic force in the world, we can begin to see our culture’s bias toward age appearing as overt forms of discrimination.

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