Aging and experiences of aging are indispensable ingredients of the self. Most young people and adults have thought about aging at least once in a lifetime. Adults are more prone to think about aging than their younger counterparts (Steverink, Westerhof, Bode & Dittmann-Kohli, 2001). Simultaneously, self-conceptions predetermine how adults approach and cope with their aging experiences (Steverink et al., 2001). One of the best ways to understand what aging means and feels is to ask older people to report their experiences and concerns. This paper provides a brief report of aging experiences and stereotypes, based on an interview with a 75-year-old male.
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James Mayweather is a 75-year-old retired officer, with more than 30 years of experience working in public service. He has a 70-year-old wife, three children, and seven grandchildren. Mr. Mayweather says that he lives a life characteristic of a middle-class male in his seventies, although his health is much better than that of his friends and aged counterparts. He enjoys his elderly status to the fullest. He recognizes that, contrary to public perceptions, aging can become the source of numerous benefits. Mr. Mayweather confesses that he has a good financial standing and does not depend on his children. However, he cannot travel much because of his wife’s difficult health condition. As a young adult, Mr. Mayweather was strongly influenced by his grandparents, especially his grandfather who was a military officer and a person of strong principles. From his grandfather, the old man learned the importance of family commitments. Yet, unlike his grandparents, Mr. Mayweather sets an example of being an active adult, full of energy and positive expectations. The latter motivated the old man to make decisions that enhance his and his family’s well-being (Steverink et al., 2001).
It should be noted, that age is one of the fundamental categories of today’s social relations. “Societies organize based on age such that different age groups gain identities and power concerning one another” (Calasanti, 2005, p.8). Depending on the age category, individual self-concepts of well-being, material standing, and life chances are shaped (Calasanti, 2005). Mr. Mayweather confesses that he does not like the way conventional age categories affect his life, but he cannot reduce their power. A common perception is that old people experience considerable health and financial difficulties and, for this reason, cannot enjoy the pleasures of life. Mr. Mayweather says that age stereotypes and conventions have become a serious barrier to accessing even the basic resources. Because aging is associated with heightened competition for power, wealth, and other resources, many people avoid disclosing their age (Calasanti, 2005). Many policies and initiatives are created for youth since older people are believed to have no interest in entertainment and life. Mr. Mayweather claims that it is difficult to have no access to the simplest pleasures, as he does not feel that he is 75 years old. People judge him by the way he looks, not the way he feels, and this situation further confirms the relevance of the physical body as the central marker of age (Calasanti, 2005).
Popular stereotypes suggest that older people experience fewer and weaker emotions. “Out of the exuberance of abundant emotional energy in early adulthood develops the moderation of cooler rationality in middle adulthood and older age” (Gross et al., 1997, p.590). Mr. Mayweather neither supports nor denies this assumption. He says that he is as emotional as many years ago, but that he has become more rational and balanced in his decisions cannot be denied. The old man believes that his rich life experiences have made him more reasonable in his judgments. He has learned to distinguish between important and unimportant issues. He has developed better emotional control skills, and recent troubles have become a good test of his emotional stability and emotional control. Mr. Mayweather lost one of his closest friends, and a serious physical trauma added complexity to his life situation. However, the man believes that he was quite reserved and reasonable about his friend’s death; were it not for his age, he would have spent days and weeks in depression. Despite a serious trauma and surgery, the man did not lose his positive orientation and was able to quickly recover after a prolonged hospitalization. Here, Mr. Mayweather notes that his situation is much better than that of his wife: a younger woman, Mrs. Mayweather is seriously ill and cannot leave the house. She spends most of her time inside. In the past three years, she underwent a series of hospitalizations, which also imply that elderly men may be facing brighter social and emotional prospects than elderly women (Barer, 1994).
Objectively, socioeconomic position and financial standing play a huge role in how elderly people perceive their aging experiences. Personal conceptions of aging build on the presence or absence of individual material, psychological and social resources (Steverink et al., 2001). The more material and emotional resources are available for the elderly the better chances they have to compensate for the losses that naturally accompany the process of aging (Steverink et al., 2001). Mr. Mayweather says that he has sufficient material and health security to enjoy his life. He is still active in sports, drives his car, and has enough resources to meet his basic life needs. Mr. Mayweather visits his children frequently, and he enjoys the fullest freedom of decision-making. He has a sharp mind and perfect decision-making abilities, and his children often come to him for assistance and advice. Mr. Mayweather realizes that his socioeconomic status and material wellbeing do play not the last role in how he attains and maintains independence and autonomy. He also recognizes that financial and health security contributes to the development of meaningful relations with others (Pinquart & Sorensen, 2001). Mr. Mayweather says that he cannot imagine himself being old and poor, because the presence of financial resources makes him more optimistic about tomorrow. He suggests that younger people should be more considerate about their future and not be afraid of aging. Based on what Mr. Mayweather says, aging can be as fascinating as a youth, and human beings have sufficient skills, capability, and resources to turn aging into the source of pleasure. From Steverink et al. (2001), Mr. Mayweather’s aging experiences can be categorized as the period of increased independence and freedom, further accompanied by new interests and fewer demands.
The developed society believes that aging and death have far-reaching negative connotations. I am young, and I often think of what it will be like being an old adult. Mr. Mayweather says that there is no reason to fear age. Although physical body attractiveness declines with age, elderly people have everything needed to enjoy their lives to the fullest. I imagine myself a senior who has a clear mind and motivation to live and act, as well as considerable financial resources to get access to the greatest pleasures of life. Family and relatives will be my top priorities, but I will never sacrifice myself for household chores. Aging is the time when many dreams may come true. Aging and retirement may finally release some space for self-realization and self-fulfillment. I understand that I will have to work hard, to lay the financial groundwork for happy aging. I will also have to reconcile with the changes in my physical body with age. The main lesson I have learned from Mr. Mayweather is that there is no sense of fearing age since this is something we cannot avoid. However, we can delay our mental and emotional decline, by being active and optimistic about the future.
The interview with a 75-year-old male exposes the main benefits and controversy of being a senior. Mr. Mayweather suggests that aging can be as happy and fascinating as a youth. With a strong financial standing and independence from children, elderly people can have everything to enjoy their lives to the fullest. Despite the lack of social and entertainment resources for the elderly, Mr. Mayweather is optimistic about the future and uses his positive expectations to improve his and his family’s well-being. Certainly, changes in the physical body and health should not be disregarded. Bereavement and losses that accompany aging produce heavy influences on seniors. However, for those seniors who are positively oriented to achieve long-term goals, aging can become a period of increased independence and freedom to pursue new interests.
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