Posts Tagged ‘Dignity’

The Wisdom of the Aged: Finding God In All Things

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/08/24 at 9:11 AM

“What you have not saved in your youth, how will you acquire in your old age? How becoming to the gray-haired is judgment, and a knowledge of counsel to those on in years! How becoming to the aged is wisdom, understanding and prudence to the venerable! The crown of old men is wide experience; their glory, the fear of the Lord” (Sir. 25: 3-6).

Reading those lines, one wonders what the author of Sirach might have made of American society today, where an old man’s crowning glory is no longer his experience or wisdom but his refusal to grow old. I considered that question recently while perusing the website ofAARP The Magazine, the official publication of the American Association of Retired Persons. Last February, just in time for Valentine’s Day, the magazine’s website offered its older readers such feature stories as “Appetite for Seduction,” an article detailing the aphrodisiac powers of chocolate and chili, “Modern Love,” an advice column written by a sex therapist, and “Sex in America,” a survey-based report on the romantic exploits of American elders. For those swinging older singles who wanted to put this information to use, the website also listed guides to matchmaking services, personal ads, and even libido-boosting drugs.

Once upon a time, such content would have been deemed too frivolous and risqué for a magazine marketed to the elderly. But today it is commonplace. We live in a culture that prizes pleasure over wisdom and youthful indulgence over the contentment of old age. Our cult of youth has convinced older Americans that the only way they can be fulfilled is to look, live, and love as if they are young- forever young.

The Cult of Youth
The pressure to remain forever young manifests itself in many ways, but it is most obvious in our society’s frenzied pursuit of perfect health. Scientists make daily headlines with their ever-evolving prescriptions for avoiding the mental and physical decline of old age. Do crossword puzzles, they tell us, practice yoga, eat carrots. Live the right way, they seem to say, and you can cheat old age, maybe even death itself.

Our popular culture concurs, and offers us plenty of models to imitate. The older adults celebrated in our movies, novels, and news stories are not those who gracefully accept the limits of age, but those who transcend them: septuagenarians still addicted to marathon running, grandfathers who swap iTunes with their pre-teen progeny, surgically enhanced and scantily clad sixty-something actresses who sprawl on magazine covers and confess salacious details about their love lives. The message is clear: It’s fine to be old, as long as you don’t think, look, or act like it.

To be young at heart is not a bad thing, of course. The positive qualities we associate with youth-love and longing, energy and enthusiasm, joy and spontaneity- are worth preserving well into the twilight of life. And as many happily married couples attest, the romantic love associated with youth can be preserved, as well as deepened and purified, through the decades.

But there is a downside to our society’s fixation on eternal youth. What we miss when we exalt health, pleasure, and perennial youthfulness as ultimate goods, and when we segregate the frail elderly from everyone else, is the joy of learning from those elders who no longer aspire to be superstar athletes or sultry pin-ups, those who have stopped worrying about fitness and have started preparing for death.

The Big Questions
Death is a dirty word in our culture, one we try mightily to avoid. But death will come someday for each of us, and no crossword puzzles or carrot diets can change that. Nor can they answer the ultimate questions posed by our exit from this earth. Those questions-about life’s meaning and purpose, about sin and salvation, redemption and life after death-are precisely the ones that the diminishments of age force us to ponder.

In a report released last fall by the President’s Council on Bioethics, “Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society,” some of the nation’s leading thinkers considered the questions facing America as the 78-million- strong Baby Boomer generation retires. Though we are living longer than ever-a Stanford biologist recently projected that the average American will soon live to be 100-the report cautioned that we must find a better way to grapple with the inevitabilities of aging and death. As the authors note in their first chapter, “. . . aging and dying-even with the progress we can still reasonably expect from medicine and social change-will not yield to either the genius of the manager or the utopian hopes of those who pretend that, by change of attitude, old age is somehow avoidable. . . . As individuals and as a society, we will need deeper wisdom and resources of character if we are going to age well in the years ahead.”

Eternal Horizon
Aging well is no easy task in America today. Though Americans ages 85 and older comprise the fastest growing segment of our population, our dominant cult of youth all but ignores their existence and offers no meaningful answers to the questions posed by their suffering.

As people of faith, we are uniquely equipped to address those questions. The deeper wisdom that springs from faith insists that the human person is made in the image of God, endowed with a dignity and a destiny that do not depend on his ability to compete, produce, or romance. This wisdom tells us that there is more to the good life than good health and more to the self-emptying process of aging than physical and mental decline. Drawing on that wisdom, we can see grace and beauty at work in the lives of our aging loved ones, and we can help them prepare for a peaceful, prayerful death.

We can also find answers to our own questions about death. When we draw close to our suffering elders, we see the truths that become clearer as death looms: that this life is finite and fragile, an utterly gratuitous gift. And true wisdom lies not in clinging to its passing pleasures but in contemplating its eternal horizon.

From the May/June 2006 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at theEthics and Public Policy Center, a research institution based in Washington, DC. Author ofThe New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell has served as a speechwriter to President George W. Bush and as a commentator on religion, politics, and culture on FOX News, EWTN, and PBS. She speaks to audiences across America. To learn more about her work, visit her website at http://www.colleen-campbell.com/.


Growing Old in the Culture of Perpetual Adolescence

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/08/17 at 9:11 AM

Aristophanes, the ancient Greek dramatist, compared old age to a second childhood. If writer Diana West were to update his analogy for the 21st century, she might say that it has become a second adolescence. And that, she would argue, is not a good thing.

Author of the provocative new book, “The Death of the Grown-Up,” West contends that American adults are trapped in a state of arrested development. In a nation in which the Cartoon Network has been known to attract more viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 than CNN, the average video gamester is 33 and 60-something rock stars still prance onstage in leather pants crooning about their sexual frustration, West sees more than nostalgia for the carefree pleasures of youth.  She senses a cultural shift that has elevated the decadence, aimlessness and self-absorption associated with adolescence into cornerstone virtues for all ages.

West focuses her analysis largely on indulgent parents more concerned about appearing “cool” than disciplining their children. But equally interesting is how our cult of adolescence affects the elderly.

Aging gracefully in a Peter Pan society is no easy task. Older Americans are remaining active and living longer than ever before, but they no longer enjoy immunity from our culture’s forever-young demands. In place of blatant age discrimination, there is a new ethic of exaggerated non-discrimination that says older Americans must meet the same standards of physical health, sexual allure and perpetual hipness as everyone else — or die trying.

This notion permeates publications and products aimed at the older set.  Visitors to the AARP website find ads for an elder model search and tips on losing “belly bulge” along with stories on aphrodisiacs, “hot new sex drugs” and a profile of a British biologist who regards aging as a disease to be eradicated.

Image-conscious readers who consider AARP’s bench-press guidelines too soft can find more challenging workouts in the studiously hip GeezerJock Magazine or join the growing ranks of Americans over 60 investing in pectoral implants, thigh lifts and tummy tucks.

Those hoping that old age might exempt them from the same superficial pressures that consumed them in high school will find little reassurance from the mainstream media. The older adults celebrated in today’s movies and magazines are not those who accept gracefully the trappings and limits of age but those who defy them: septuagenarians addicted to marathon running, celebrities who refuse to answer to “Grandpa” or “Grandma” when their children’s children call and surgically enhanced, scantily clad 60-something actresses who sprawl on magazine covers in sex-kitten poses. Their defiant message is clear: It’s fine to grow older, so long as you don’t think, look or act like an old person.

Some welcome this blurring of generational lines as evidence that elders are accorded equal treatment in our cult of youth. But the preoccupation with proving that Grandma’s still sexy and Grandpa’s still got game contributes to the very fixation on youthful vigor that marginalizes our elders.

It also blinds us to their unique contributions to our culture. The lives and stories of our elders remind us that today’s tragedies may become tomorrow’s triumphs and that tasks that consume us now may count for little at life’s end.  Elders can testify from experience that the pleasure of earning a few more bucks or turning a few more heads fades much sooner than the peace that comes from comforting a dying parent or living by principle, regardless of fashion.

That hard-won wisdom accrues with the passing of years. Although it can be glimpsed at any age, it is possessed fully only by those who trade the heady thrills of adolescence for the richer rewards of grown-up life.

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH Thursday, Sep. 13 2007  Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television host and St. Louis-basedfellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

Challenge of the Media

In 07 Observations on 2011/09/10 at 12:00 AM

“We live in an epoch which puts a premium on sincerity.  And yet , our era has become known as the time of impostors, of falsehood and lying.  Among others, the list of impostors includes those member of the press, who spread scandalous indiscretions and slanderous insinuations, appeal to people’s lowest instincts, gradually corrupting their moral sense.  To the press one could add movies, radio, television.  These instruments useful in themselves, when handled by shrewd operators bombard people with sound and colors and hidden persuasion, which is all the more effective because of being hidden.  Such media are capable of little by little making the best fathers hated by their children, of making white seem black and vice versa.  This is how the habits of thought and the customs of people are being transformed today.  Whenever possible, we should use the means of communication to give sound doctrine to society as a whole.

We should stress those ideas which have a transcendental  importance for social progress: the defense of life from its conception; the dignity of the family and of the person; social justice; the right to work, due concern for the weakest members of society….In many cases we can communicate these ideals without difficulty…by writing a Letter to the Editor, by making telephone calls, by participating in opinion polls or on radio programs.  These means are available to us for showing our approval of a program or an article that either reinforces fundamental human morality or fails to do so.”

Illustrissimi by Albino Luciani  (Pope John Paul I)