Written by Daniela Cabral, Business Development Associate, Rootless Garden
Don’t let the title put you off from reading the following words because they concern everyone.
In fact, today I decided to write about humanity, to humanity.
Dramatic titles and introductions aside, I would like to speak of age. Of old age and of how it is perceived by society. Of how it is feared by society, of how it is wrapped around in tightly knit stereotypes that rapidly become internalized by its targets. I invite you to spend a few minutes of your day to ask yourself a very simple question: why do we invest so much of our time, effort and dedication into avoiding and sabotaging the oh-so-natural process of ageing?
Look around. Look at TV, magazines, newspapers, ads, look at the workforce, the services, look at our priorities, our idols, our aspirations. Where do older people fit in this grand scheme of things?
They often don’t. And when they do, they tend to be portrayed as helpless, decaying, impaired individuals. Individuals that must be taken care of, for they no longer possess the ability to do so themselves. There are a myriad of services built over this assumption, which, intentionally or not, serve to perpetuate relationships of dependency.
This is where the first part of the title comes in: should the characteristics usually associated with old age be perceived as undeniable facts or rather as generalizing ill-founded assumptions? Most importantly, by generalizing and assuming and, consequently, stereotyping, are we not creating an endless torrent of self-fulfilling prophecies?
Paul Watzlawick defines a self-fulling prophecy as “an assumption or prediction that, purely as a result of having been made, cause the expected or predicted event to occur and thus confirms its own 'accuracy.'” Our world is populated by self-fulfilling prophecies, they appear everyday and anyone can be their master. They can be used to either create goodness or evil. They hold a great deal of power as a tool, yet so do their masters.
I guess what I’m trying to say is: power lies within us (the Lord of the Rings tone was completely unintentional!). It lies with younger and older people, with men and women. It lies in everyday life, in small conversations, in decisions. Because these speckles of life, both big and small, our thoughts and perspectives, they create our outside world.
You might now ask: what on earth does this mean in reality?
It means everything. It means that the world as we know it cannot and should not be taken for granted. It means that older people should not be labeled and placed inside small stereotypical categories. And that by putting an end to the stereotype, older people’s potential, value and relevance will shine through. Rather than focusing on illnesses or forgetfulness, we might all be able to discover the endless knowledge and thousands of stories instead. We might discover that when all ages are placed at the same level of importance, when all are entitled to liberty, all endowed with respect, progress, growth and goodness spring much faster.
These are more than just abstract ideas and vague ideals. I am lucky enough to see this happen everyday, since I’ve started my internship with Rootless Garden. I’m lucky to run The W4 Social Club in Chiswick – every Tuesday coloured with laughter and smiles, with jokes and stories around the table, over food and tea. Every Tuesday new stories too come to life, new connections, and new friendships flourish.
If you find self-prophecies difficult to swallow, let me provide with yet another viewpoint concerning the second part of the title – vicious circles.
Everyone is familiar with the karma-inspired notion of ‘what goes around comes around’, which lies at the heart of vicious circles. They are often set in motion by ourselves (often inadvertently) and may take up any shape or content. Stereotyping and ostracizing older people is, for instance, one of them. Look at it this way: generally associating older people with diseases and impairments weakens them, whilst attempting to support them with this perspective in mind creates an unsustainable relationship of dependency.
If we proceed this way and condemn older people to such reducing stereotypes, this manner of thinking and the impact it has on society, are reproduced and extended. The negativism is allowed to live, it is perpetuated. Fast forward 60, 40 or even 20 years. Those who associated old age with weaknesses (and even those who did not) are now restrained by the confining shackles created or perpetuated by themselves in the past. The vicious circle will continue up until stereotypes are dropped and potentialities rediscovered.
Only then, one drop at a time, an ocean of possibilities, of independence, freedom and harmony will be created.