Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

What Are Old People For?

Originally posted on June 22, 2011

That’s the title of a book written in 2004 by Dr. William H. Thomas, subtitle: How elders will save the world. (Acton, MA: VanderWyk & Burnham, 2004). He brings up many points that I find important. I have become interested in subtle forms of oppression—including overt and subtle forms of age-ism—a theme that has become more interesting the deeper I enter that category of elder.

Ageism overlaps with such categories as: widespread cultural trends; what passes for “common sense”; the problem of illusion; pervasive subtle cultural mythology; and so forth. Dr. Thomas critiques the cult of adulthood and encourages us to confront, expose, and dissolve certain practices and attitudes. I generally agree with him, though there are some passages I might dispute.

His book focuses on a more enlightened approach to elder-care, not nursing homes, but more holistic centers he calls “green houses.” But for the purposes of this blog entry, part of his book challenges the cultural drift to what he calls “Doing” in contrast with “Being.” Of course we need both: adulthood is the optimal time for doing, productivity, achievement. The role demands of parenthood and making a living peak in this phase. But there is a proper place also for “being,” without so much an emphasis on productivity. The point here is to question what is productive, and whether that is an unqualified good. Along with that, Dr. Thomas encourages us to question the invasion of childhood with competition, grades, and the value of achievement—which also resonates with my writings about cultivating the values and skills involved in play.

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