In this article, I want to explore briefly the topic of aging, the process of becoming older. In 1965, The Who, the popular British Rock Band, released “My Generation,” a song which was written by the guitarist Pete Townshend. It was about celebrating the younger generation, even to the point of mocking the elderly or aged, saying, “I hope I die before I get old.”
America’s Cult of Youth
Not much has changed since “My Generation” was released 56 years ago, because today’s young people are still focused on “My Generation,” with its worship of youth, beauty and strength. For example, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (referring to a study by the academic psychologist Edith Weisskopf-Joelson) says that the fear of aging is an unhealthy trend in the United States, which stresses “the value of youth.”1 For instance, I recently went to Great Clips for a hair cut. On the walls of the room, I was surrounded by pictures of young men and women with various hair styles. I asked the woman who was cutting my hair, ‘Why don’t you have on your walls pictures of middle-aged or older men and women? They also matter; their lives are worthwhile.’ She laughed at my comments. Her response may be shaped by popular culture, with its cult or worship of youth. As Frankl rightly observes,
“[T]oday’s society … adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise.”2
I went shopping at the King of Prussia Mall and there they were again: Pictures of young men and women, adorning the walls of one store after another. To me, it confirmed Frankl’s point, namely, the idolizing of youth in American culture.
Having the Right Attitude about Aging
Contrary to the mentality about aging in popular culture, aging does not diminish a person’s value; nor should getting old be thought of as an impending “death sentence.” Aging may, in fact, depending on a person’s attitude, enhance the value of life, making it another meaningful stage of being human. What ages a person, then, is not only the adding of years to life but also a person’s attitude, specifically, having the wrong attitude about life.
Come to think of it, great things can happen when a person is old. Consider the following examples and then add your own: At the age of 58, Emmanuel Levinas was appointed Professor of Philosophy at Poitiers. Moses was 80 when he led the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage. At the age of 75, Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa. Joseph Ratzinger was 78 when he became Pope Benedict XVI. At the age of 67, Viktor Frankl received his license to fly a plane. Joe Biden became President of the United States at the age of 78. Let it not be said of a person that has the right attitude about life, “You are too old.” “It is too late for you.” Too old? Too late? It is never too late to be great!
In 1965, Townshend was 20 years of age; today, he is 76. However, I would suppose that he doesn’t want to die. He is, undoubtedly, happy to be alive. The reason is that whether a person is 20 or 76, life is still a gift; it is still good to be alive. Therefore, old age is a challenge to live life well, to “carve out” ever-new meanings to a person’s life.
1. Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1967), pp. 31, 84.
2. ———-, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 152.