Skip to main content


By June 21, 2016Culture, Longevity

Let it be known, I don’t feel sorry for older adults.

I do, however, respect older adults. I admire older adults. And I learn from older adults. But as for being sympathetic to people just because they are old? Nope. To the contrary, I believe older adults should be congratulated for their longevity and for making the most of this extraordinary accomplishment.

To put an even finer point on this perspective, I empathize with older adults. With respect to older adults I recommend that “sympathy” and “empathy” not be used so indiscriminately and interchangeably. Though the meanings for both are profound, literally, there is a difference. Webster’s defines sympathy as “sameness of feeling” and empathy as “ability to share another’s emotions, thoughts or feelings.”

Whether it is the original intent, “sympathy” has become synonymous with condolence. Whereas, “empathy” conveys an inherent sensitivity or appreciation for one’s circumstances. The subtlety of this differentiation is particularly evident with respect to aging and older adults.

To show sympathy – in word, attitude or action – marginalizes the accomplishment of longevity. You might as well say, Sorry for your loss … of years, independence, health, memory, mobility and life — sooner than later. Instead of enabling a “Woe is me” mentality; isn’t it more productive to encourage personal accountability. To empathize, conversely, is to show older adults that you recognize the value of their accumulated years of experience, resources and potential.

Older adults certainly are not pathetic and aging certainly is not pitiful. There’s no need to feel sorry for, or even sympathetic toward older adults, especially those who live healthy, purposeful lives. A chorus of “Longevity Rules!” is more appropriate.


  • Gary says:

    Very well said.

  • Great perspective. Everyone should learn how to “recognize the value of their accumulated years of experience, resources and potential”. There is priceless wisdom to be found in that.

  • Matt Perry says:

    Someone once said – oh wait, it was Stuart Greenbaum – “we take the people with the most experience in life and dispose of them.” It’s high time to reclaim aging with confidence and succumb to the popular cultural perception of uselessness. I don’t feel sorry for older adults, although I do feel empathy for those who have given up because they longer feel valued.

  • Jennie Hanaen says:

    Thoughtful and vibrant piece! Thank you, Stuart.

  • No one pities a 400 year old Icelandic Clam that is still reproductively active…we are astounded!

Leave a Reply