If only, when people hear Joe South sing “Walk a mile in my shoes,” his poetic and encouraging metaphor for empathy would move all who “abuse, criticize and accuse.” And, if only, older adults were among the highest regarded beneficiaries of such empathy.
Of course this is just wistful thinking. Particularly in these divisive times, we know how difficult it is to modify people’s attitudes and actions toward anything or anyone. With something as existential as the aging experience, it will take more than words and songs to move the dial. But South’s metaphorical folk-rock anthem is on the right track.
According to the FrameWorks Institute, metaphors may be the most instructive and relatable way to publicly reframe “aging” as a positive, purposeful experience; and as an opportunity for individuals and society. This, rather than the burden some attempt to characterize it as. However clever the alliteration “silver tsunami” may be, the foreboding metaphor is as inaccurate as it is harmful. The rapidly increasing older adult population should inspire the best human qualities — optimism, inclusion, compassion and generativity, among them.
Beyond the colloquial “age is like a fine wine …” there are plenty of constructive and empowering interpretations of what it means to grow older. Thanks to Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book, i never metaphor I didn’t like, here are some useful examples:
- “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” — Jawaharlal Nehru
- “Someone told me life is a water wheel. It turns. The trick is to hold your nose when you’re under and not get dizzy when you’re up.” — James Baldwin
- “Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.” — Seneca
- “Life is a lot like a marathon. If you can finish a marathon, you can do anything you want.” — Oprah Winfrey
- “Old age is like climbing a mountain. You climb from ledge to ledge. The higher you get, the more tired and breathless you become — but your views become more extensive.” — Ingrid Bergman
- “The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.” — English proverb
And, from my favorite public awareness initiative, produced for Aging Services of California (now LeadingAge California), there’s this encouragement: “Aging is an active verb.”