Laurie MacNaughton © 2019
He has just left my office, this dapper gentleman of 70 with a PhD in Applied Science. But what he said will stay with me for some time to come: “Our society treats aging like it’s some great moral failing.”
I hadn’t ever put it in such elegant or concise terms, but I have seen it too, this pervasive notion that if you’re old, or sick – or, heaven forbid, old and sick – you have done something deeply and morally wrong.
This thinking is not limited to a health-and-wealth worldview. Deepak Chopra in Ageless Body, Timeless Mind writes, “…join me on a journey of discovery…[w]here old age, senility, infirmity, and death do not exist and are not even entertained as a possibility.” He goes on to indict parents, teachers, and society for the belief that aging and illness are natural.
It is far outside my area of proficiency to comment on the complex interactions between mental, physical, and spiritual health. But as one who has dealt with a number of health conditions, I can comment on how it feels to be the recipient of judgmentalism and unsolicited advice.
It feels like one is being blamed for one’s condition. It feels like one is being told, “If you were to just try harder, you wouldn’t be experiencing this.” It feels like the advice-giver is assuming a position of moral superiority and that you are being implicated in some heinous crime. In other words, it feels bad.
Personally, I choose to assume unasked-for advice comes from a place of concern, and that the advice-giver is wishing to help. But I also understand when the recipient of unsolicited advice snaps, and fires back a retort – I’ve seen it happen.
I’ve also seen advice-givers do an eyeroll, as though to say, “Suit yourself. When you start listening to me you’ll finally put this behind you.” And it’s not just physical illness that provokes unsought advice. I have seen the aging subjected to similarly judgmental input.
Without question lifestyle choices factor into wellness, but that’s not the whole story. The rest of the story is people get old; people get sick; bodies break down – maybe not at the same rate, certainly, but it’s just the way the world works.
In the voice of my dapper gentleman, self-deprecating humor and irony were clear. But I thought I heard something else. Weariness with the judginess and self-righteousness that can accompany interactions with the young and the well?
It may be too much to ask that we all agree on some points. But perhaps we can at least adhere to the Golden Rule and its corollary: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; but also, say unto others what you would have them say unto you.
Or, as others might put it, let us try to stay in our own lane until invited into another’s.
After all, what goes around really does come around – eventually.