In this article, I want to explore briefly the topic of aging, the process of becoming older, especially as it relates to any man or woman near or over the age of 50.
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 elderlyMy Site or aged, saying, “I hope I die before I get old.”
In 1965, Townshend was 20 years of age; today, he is 73. However, I would suppose that he doesn’t want to be dead. He is, undoubtedly, happy to be alive. The reason is that whether a person is 20 or 73, life is still a gift; it is still good to be alive. In short, life has meaning and purpose, regardless of a person’s age.
America’s Cult of Youth
Not much has changed in 52 years, because the young 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.
I was told by a well-meaning neighbor that I am too old to be hired for a full-time position at any college or university. In his opinion, it was too late for me to become a full-time professor. I suppose that he was implying that if you are, say, 50 or over, your life in the workplace has, for all practical purposes, come to an end. His thinking may be shaped by popular culture, with its the 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.
Too Old to be Employed Full-Time?
My neighbor’s view about aging men and women may be shared by some people in the workplace. But such a view is also a form of discrimination. So I ask: Is it too late for me to be a professor? Am I too old? Then I thought: 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. Ronald Regan was 69 when he became President of the United States.
Too old? Too late? It is never too late to be great!
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.