Aging-- fact and fancy


Material Information

Aging-- fact and fancy
Physical Description:
23 p. : ; 21 x 9 cm.
Kent, Donald P ( Donald Peterson )
U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Welfare Administration, Office of Aging
Place of Publication:
Washington, D.C.
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Aging   ( lcsh )
federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Statement of Responsibility:
Donald P. Kent.
General Note:
"Keynote address before the National Conference of State Executives on Aging. Sponsored by the U.S. Office of Aging, Washington, D.C., May 13, 1965"--P. 2 of cover.
General Note:
"OA no. 224."

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University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 028271625
oclc - 11131774
lcc - HQ1064.U5 A27 no.224
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Director, Office of Aging
Welfare Administration
U.S. Department of
Health, Education, and Welfare

TO ASSUME that one's own generation
is singularly free of the benighted influ-
ences of incredible myths, superstitions,
and ignorance that plagued earlier gen-
erations is one of the most universal of
human foibles. And understandably so,
for the workings of history have revealed
the errors of the past; those of the present
stand hidden by the cloak of proximity.
The thesis of this paper can be simply
stated: progress in coping with the needs
of the real world calls for an accurate
assessment of that world. It is here con-
tended that the pictures we hold in our
minds of the real world are sometimes
far removed from an accurate reflection
of the world.
In the opening paragraph of a book,
which in part inspired this paper, Senator
J. W. Fulbright of Arkansas wrote:
"There is an inevitable divergence be-


tween the world as it is and the world as
men perceive it. As long as our percep-
tions are reasonably close to objective
reality, it is possible for us to act upon our
problems in a rational and appropriate
manner. But when our perceptions fail
to keep pace with events, when we refuse
to believe something because it displeases
or frightens us, or is simply startlingly un-
familiar, then the gap between fact and
perception becomes a chasm, and action
becomes irrelevant and irrational." '
It is my contention that there exists to-
day a chasm between our perceptions of
aging and the facts.
Anyone rash enough to speak on this
topic, to the Nation's leading group of
experts in this field, should hasten to ex-
plain his rationale lest an alienist quickly
certify him for room and board at the
State's expense. For obviously, implicit
in this topic is the assumption that there
does exist a great deal of fancy and error
in thinking about aging. While it does
not indicate who is guilty of this fanciful
thinking, the implication is unmistakable
that it is widespread and even touches the
experts. Also implicit is the assumption
that the speaker has some hold on the real
facts. Since you know me as one of you,
as a former State executive on aging, as
a former professor, you know full well
that I possess no gift of prophecy that
enables me to see farther than you, my
colleagues. This I am willing to concede
at the outset. Then why the topic? Let
1 J W. Fulbright, Old Myths and New Realities.
New York: Random House, 1964.

me indicate the thinking of the planning
If it teaches anything, the sweep of hu-
man history teaches that much of what
we believe is partly worthless, wholely
worthless, or worse than worthless. The
committee felt that someone should be
charged to give free play to his thoughts
and speak candidly of what he believes to
be fanciful. I was asked to do this, not
because of any unique qualifications, but
on the assumption that this will be a
means of starting a dialog.
It is a fundamental assumption of the
democratic ideology that progress comes
from dialog, from a clash of viewpoints.
Historically, conferences are designed not
to present such dialog but to reassure. In
fact, a perceptive social critic once wrote
that "conferences are primarily a means
of enabling people with some common
interest to present a united front against
the outside world." However, it was
felt that in this instance a conference
might try something new. We have thus
elected to begin by challenging basic as-
sumptions rather than offering reassur-
Having no special dispensation that re-
lieves me from error, some of my judg-
ments probably will also be fanciful. But
perhaps the fancies will be different from
those commonly accepted. Out of the
clash of fancies may come a closer ap-
proximation to "Truth."
The approach will be episodic and the
central theme lies in the method rather
than the subject matter.

SThe "Numbers Game"

IT IS STANDARD operating procedure
to begin speeches on aging by calling at-
tention to the fact that there are some 18
million older people and that they con-
stitute the fastest growing segment of our
population (not quite true, incidentally,
for actually the group of persons under
18 is growing more rapidly).
There is a psychological principle that
a constant stimulus ceases to be a stim-
ulus. Is it not possible that we have used
the figures so often that they have ceased
to have any great meaning to us or to
those whom we seek to stimulate to
There is also the tendency for humans
to simplify by setting up convenient cate-
gories which may have little reality. I
feel that to some extent this results from
our playing the "numbers game." Ac-
tually, we have a process going-people
entering the aged category; people grow-
ing old within it; and people dying and
leaving it.
Thus on an average day some 3,800
persons reach their 65th birthday and
almost 3,000 persons 65 and over die.
Our emphasis upon 18 million obscures
the fact that each day there are new grad-
uates to aging. It obscures the fact of
death. It obscures the process-the
changing nature of the population. It
obscures the fact there is an "aging"
of the aged population. This, of course,
has important implications with respect
to planning health, recreational and other
facilities and services.


Should we not be more concerned with
the movement, the flux? As soon as we
turn to aging as a process, new figures
become more important. Between now
and the end of this century, 65 million
people will celebrate their 60th birthday.
Some 20 million of our citizens will grow
from early old age into advanced old age.
I wonder, also, if our parroting of the
number of aged has not had another
effect. For there are certain correlatives
that follow from our thinking of the aged
as a group. One is an emphasis upon a
short-term approach rather than long-
range planning, upon palliatives rather
than upon cures, upon the superficial
rather than the basic.

Boredom and Loneliness

LET ME GIVE YOU an example. To
speak of the loneliness and boredom that
besets our older people is common fare
in most gerontological talks. And there
follows a plea for friendly visiting, ac-
tivity centers, and similar programs.
Now there is no question that many
older people are bored, and there is no
question that the remedies proposed have
at least limited value. I think we might
note parenthetically that we are not sure
how much value, for I know of no large-
scale study demonstrating the effective-
ness of these approaches nor their influ-
ences on large numbers of persons. But
this is not the point I wish to make. My
contention is that boredom and loneli-

ness may be related to deep-seated person-
ality characteristics. If boredom and
loneliness are to be combated effectively,
perhaps something need be done much
earlier in life than when one becomes eli-
gible for a "Happy-Happy Club."
Dr. Alvin T. Goldfarb, of the New
York State Department of Mental Hy-
giene, notes: "At the risk of seeming cal-
lous or cold, I would encourage looking at
these people and their problems with a
somewhat clinical or jaundiced eye lest
too ready an extension of pity, sympathy,
or compassion interfere with our ability to
offer helpful warmth and helpful effort;
an unimpassioned view is necessary if we
are to gather the information necessary
for us to be helpful.
"I have tried to indicate that the sub-
jective factors, loneliness and boredom,
are more usually symptoms of personal
distress than of a family's neglect; that
such symptoms in old age may stem from
remote causes, from socialization in the
early life of the person, and from a lack
of personal resources for self-determina-
tion and mastery.
"The unhappy, discontented older per-
sons appear to have been socialized as de-
pendent persons who are anxious when
they are, or feel they are, alone, who are
prone to accessions of feelings of helpless-
ness, and tend to devote their lives to
searching for the support of others
through whom they gain their sense of
worth, their self-confidence de-
pends on the views of others, and they

find purpose in the pursuit of others." 2
The studies of Dr. Jack Weinberg, Di-
rector of the Illinois State Psychiatric In-
stitute, have prompted similar conclu-
sions. He notes: "Isolation is not always
a physically imposed state. Much too
often it is a chronically experienced intra-
psychic condition arising early in the de-
velopment of the personality and of a
vaguely felt deprived stance." 3
If this is true, then many of our ap-
proaches are like giving cough drops to
a person suffering from tuberculosis.
The symptoms may be relieved, but the
cause remains untouched.

Tendency to Reify

of the aged as a static group is a universal
tendency to reify, that is, to endow inani-
mate objects or abstract ideas with life.
To say that the "government feels" is
an example of reification. A government
does not feel anything; people feel.
There are certain individuals who per-
haps can speak for groups, but this is
something different than a group think-
ing. So long as we recognize that we are
using a group in this way it is very differ-
ent than assuming that there is such a
thing as a "collective will."
3 Alvin I. Goldfarb, M.D., "The Intimate Relations
of Older People." Paper prepared for a symposium
at the University of California. Jan. 26, 1964.
3 Jack Weinberg., M.D., "Interpersonal Relation-
ships in Multigenerational Families." Mimeo-

Increasingly, I note in journals such
phrases as "the aged think," and "the
aged want," "the elderly feel." Obvi-
ously, the aged as a group do not think,
want, nor feel anything. Individuals
within the group do. Now it is altogether
possible, and I think likely, that the ma-
jority of aged persons do indeed want
medicare, increased social security bene-
fits, and more community programs. But
this is a little different than having the
aged as a group wanting these. Now
this may seem to be quibbling-it is not so
intended, nor do I think it is. I do not
expect a popular magazine nor a lobby-
ing group to use the language of science.
I do, however, think that we must be
clear in our own thinking. We must
learn to translate such phrases as "the
aged think" to "Mr. Jones states that, in
his opinion, the majority of older people
think such and so."

Word Fact

related to a point that Professor John
Galbraith has made. He contends that
frequently we assume that saying some-
thing is so, makes it so. Words initially
are symbols to represent the outside
world. But at the same time these sym-
bols can be used not to represent the out-
side world but to represent our hopes
about the outside world or a distorted
view of the outside world. If we auto-
matically assume that all words are ac-

curate reflections of the outside world, we
soon enter into the error of "word fact."
We use words that embody our hopes and
assume they are facts.
This, too, is related to a tendency to
oversimplify-to assume that an observa-
tion has greater validity than it really has.
For example, I have heard countless ger-
ontologists, including myself, say that
independence is the basic goal of older
people. Now for many this is undoubt-
edly true; often, however, this is arrant
nonsense. For large numbers of individ-
uals, security is a much more pressing
need than independence. With failing
strength and reduced resources, a haven
rather than adventure is looked for. Now
I know some will point out that this is
a bit of a straw man. We really say that
the individual is seeking "maximum in-
dependence possible." This caveat I
cannot completely accept. At times so
little independence is sought or possible
that the term no longer applies.
Indeed, I would go farther and follow
the lead of Dr. Goldfarb who has sug-
gested that our society acculturates de-
pendency and that much of the talk about
being independent is just so much win-
dow dressing. Many gerontologists, I
submit, are busily fostering dependence
while loudly proclaiming that they are
maintaining independence. To the ex-
tent that this is done with the view of
trying to make life comfortable for de-
pendent people, or giving voice to part
of the national mythology, I think it
acceptable. However, to some degree I

777-050 0 65 2

think those who take part in this shadow
world do so with all the naive innocence
of the Orwellian people who proclaim
and indeed believe glaring contradictions
without ever being aware of the incon-
As a sociologist I fully recognize the
social values of mythologies; I am merely
suggesting that the leaders not fall prey
to their own words.
One can cite many examples of "word
fact." Opinions on the desirability or
undesirability of retirement villages are
rampant. But studies are virtually non-
existent. I challenge anyone to state that
he knows for sure that such villages do
or do not promote adjustment, do or do
not contribute to mental health, do or
do not lengthen life.
I am not saying that we as practi-
tioners do not have to form judgments
before all the evidence is in. This, of
course, must be done regularly, and it is
legitimate. The world of action cannot
always wait upon the world of research.
What is inexcusable, however, is to give
the impression that we are operating not
on the basis of our best guesses given
limited evidence but that we are operat-
ing on the basis of scientific evidence.

Overplaying Ideas

OUR SAME NEED to do something
also may lead us to enthusiastic endorse-
ment of programs which may have very
limited application. This is fancy deriv-
ing from excess.

It has been said that there are three
ways of aging-resigning, denying, and
accepting. My barbs have been directed
at those who persist in denying. Dr. Bar-
bara Shenfield, a British leader in the field
of aging, has for any many years been
calling for a realistic view. At the Fifth
International Congress of Gerontology in
.San Francisco, she challenged a group of
experts similar to this audience to do
some hard thinking on a number of issues.
She noted: "Ideas based on the as-
sumption that there is a very large reserve
of wasted labor among the retired which
could be used to add to national wealth
and reduce the pensions' bill, die hard, as
also does the unproven theory, that work
is 'good' for the old and postpones aging.
No longitudinal study following a cohort
of older persons through the years im-
mediately before and after retirement
has proved any clear causal connection
between prompt retirement and subse-
quent early death, nor that continued em-
ployment beyond pension age has any ad-
vantageous effect upon health. Such
studies as have been made suggest that
some people's health appears actually to
improve after retirement." *
In the same way, I think the desire
for work can be overplayed. In our so-
ciety it often becomes necessary for a man
to boast of his desire to keep working until
he drops in his tracks just as a young
4 Barbara E. Shenfield, "American Experience in
Aging as Viewed by a European." in Social Welfare
of the Aging. Ed. by Jerome Kaplan and Gordon
T. Aldridge. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1962.

bachelor finds it necessary to boast of
imagined amours. Were jobs suddenly
offered would they be taken? The ex-
periences (granted, of limited nature) of
several neighborhoods which have set up
part-time employment services would
seem to belie the great desire to work.
I am not suggesting that we should not
be interested in the income position of
the aged. Quite the reverse. I feel that
all too little of our energies go into this
I will charge that our programs are
often middle-class oriented. They are
run by middle-class people, for middle-
class people, with middle-class objectives
and attitudes. The destitute aged, the
impoverished aged, are often quite over-
looked in our programs.
This despite the fact that we do, in-
deed, have evidence from study after
study of the vital difference that adequate
income makes. Much research indicates
that the best prophylactic against a mis-
erable old age is "to be rich."
The New England poet, Robert Frost,
sans statistical evidence, nonetheless put
it clearly:
"No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard,
Or keeps the end from being hard.
Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!" '

5 Collected Poems of Robert Frost. New York:
Henry Holt & Co., 1939.

Preretirement Education

THE FAITH WE HAVE in untested
and unproved concepts is enormous.
There is, I submit, enormous faith in pre-
retirement education. Only a few, it
seems to me, have heeded the warning of
Dr. Charles Taylor of Pennsylvania State
University that such programs may not
only not do good but actually do harm.
They may arouse anxiety about retire-
ment without preparing the individual
with tools for coping either with the real
problems or those conjured up in the class.
How many studies can you actually
name that have systematically evaluated
the effectiveness of preretirement courses?
And how many of these courses are really
grounded in what we know to be actual
problems of retirement? Going one step
farther, how many of us are really sure
that we know what the actual problems
of retirement are?
I am not debunking preretirement edu-
cation. I have given such courses and
would guess they have value. However,
there is a wide difference between feel-
ing absolutely certain that they have
value and guessing that they do. Paren-
thetically, the approach here again
smacks of the static-preparation for re-
tirement sounds as if retirement were a
given condition that does not change.
Actually, it is a changing state. The
nature of retirement in the first years of
retirement is vastly different from retire-
ment some decades after first ceasing
work. If courses in preparation are of

great value, then they have to be given
frequently, not only before one retires
but during retirement.
While much is made of the shock of
retirement in gerontological literature, lit-
tle is made of the shock of bereavement.
Both are the common expectation of
mankind and each should be studied.
But in our society there is a strange silence
about death and the fear of death that is
present with older people.
The ancients were less squeamish, and
Euripides boldly says, "When death
comes near, the old find that age is no
longer burdensome." In the 19th cen-
tury people faced death as a crisis that
must be met and Lord Byron wrote:
"What is the worst of woes that wait on
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the
To view each loved one blotted from
the page,
And be alone on earth, as I am now."

Warped Perception

ONE OF THE MOST insightful investi-
gators in gerontology, Dr. Irving Rosow
of Western Reserve University, has
"Problems of old age are of two gen-
eral kinds: those that older people ac-
tually have and those that experts think
they have. This distinction is not sim-
ply whimsical, for while the two may
overlap, they certainly do not correspond.

"The difference between them reflects
several factors. The old-age field attracts
dedicated practitioners who are deeply
committed to social action and reform.
Indeed, they regard gerontology almost
as an ideological movement. Their in-
tense involvement commonly magnifies
older people's problems which seem to
loom larger than life and crowd most
other issues from their perspective. In
the process, their perception is often
"Practitioners also oversimplify the
problems of the aged. As a pragmatic
people, we are generally much more sen-
sitive to material than social needs and
think more readily in concrete than ab-
stract terms. It is easier to visualize a
particular building or formal program
than social institutions. Where standards
of effective accomplishment are ambigu-
ous, the sheer visibility of physical objects
or organized activities reassures us that
our efforts are consequential and success-
ful. On the other hand, concepts and
relationships are intangible. They im-
plicity confront us with disquieting is-
sues of meaning which the material ap-
proach often clumsily but readily side-
steps. Hence, by concentrating on con-
crete material problems, practitioners can
avoid thinking about subtler social needs
that are less apparent and harder to man-
age, but equally compelling." 6

6 Irving Rosow, Housing and Social Integration
of the Aged. Cleveland: Western Reserve Uni-
versity, 1964.

The Open Mind

SO LONG AS OUR FIELD is in a de-
velopmental state, is it not absolutely
essential that we keep open minds?
It is, perhaps, an indication of wide-
spread fancy that we tend to be swept up
first in one activity and then in another.
At one period it is enthusiasm for referral
centers, at another for the activity center,
or for protective services or meals-on-
Emerson once said that "consistency is
the hobgoblin of small minds." We can
at least console ourselves with the large-
ness of our minds. Inconsistencies are
rampant. On the one hand, we are sure
that individuals can never submit to the
indignity of a means test for medical care,
but feel they can do so for housing. We
are sure that older people want to be
kept in the mainstream of life and equally
sure that we should be creating activity
centers geared to a specific age group.
We are sure that older people want to be
independent yet we have conferences on
how to provide services and do things
for them. We profess that we should
never talk down to the aged and then
proceed to design programs that would
be patronizing to a 13-year-old. We ad-
vocate an income approach to meeting
needs and spend much time developing
programs of reduced fares, food stamps,
and other devices that erode the income
One of our present "kicks" is getting
people out of mental institutions. With-

out quarreling with the fact that prob-
ably many can be released, is it not true
that most of the thinking starts from the
viewpoint of economics rather than that
of the patient?
Glibly we state that institutions are
filled with people who do not belong
there. Is this really true? Dr. Goldfarb
in his researches notes: "A recent study
demonstrated that 94 percent of first ad-
missions to the State hospitals in New
York City have brain syndrome, 54 per-
cent of these severe in degree and 68 per-
cent of them with associated disorder of
affect or content. They are not persons
who have been 'rejected' by their families
for social or financial reasons; they are
sick people who need comprehensive med-
ical care for whom no other adequate
community medical facility is yet avail-
able." 7
The research of Dr. Marjorie Fiske
Lowenthal at the Langley-Porter Neuro-
psychiatric Institute, San Francisco, lends
further support to this view.

The Golden Past

THERE ARE FEW more cherished illu-
sions than the position of the aged in the
Golden Past. The three-generation fam-
ily pictured as a farm idyl is common, yet
all evidence indicates that at no time in
any society was a three-generation fam-

SAlvin I. Goldfarb, M.D., "Psychiatry for the
Aged." Paper prepared for the Committee on Aging
of the American Psychiatric Association.

ily ever the common mode, and even less
evidence that it was idyllic. Look at
American history. The first settlers were
largely people who left their parental gen-
eration in the Old Country. Their chil-
dren in turn started the Westward Move-
ment and left their parents in the East.
This continued throughout the 17th,
18th, and the greater part of the 19th
century. The stability of the three-gen-
eration family in America, if it existed at
all, probably existed only in the very last
part of the 19th century and the early
part of the 20th. And there is no indica-
tion that the consideration of one for an-
other that is essential to the ideal part of
our picture has ever been present in
greater quantity than now.
The research of Dr. Ethel Shanus of
the University of Chicago calls into ques-
tion many of our beliefs in this idea. She
finds that most older people with children
are not separated from them by great
geographical distances nor are most cut
off socially. It is interesting to note that
the older people who most loudly voice
the charge that the younger people ne-
glect their old parents are those who are
All of this is complicated by the fact
that frequently when people look back
they are not looking back to reality at all
but to an imagined condition that never
existed. Dr. Weinburg, for example,
notes: "When an old patient states that
he would like to go or return home, he
speaks of a return to an idealized if not
mythological place. It is an expression

and an embodiment of a yearning for a
not vet realized dream.
"What the aged person is looking for
is a distillation of all that has ever been
said or written about the home.
Warmth, love, affection, security, and a
total acceptance of the self are all in his
legend. In his plaintive request to be re-
stored to his home there is a heart-tugging
poignancy but also a rebuke to those
about him for keeping him from the real-
ization of a dream. It is futile to point
out to the dreamer the reality of his situa-
tion, the untenability of his abode, for
he is addressing himself to a wish and
reality as we know it is denied."

Leisure and Aging

years ago entitled The Natural History of
Nonsense, the author points out how in-
dividuals can misread the past and then
use it as a guide to the present, thus dou-
bly compounding a basic source of error.
I sometimes feel that perhaps we have
done this not only with our concepts of
family life but also with our thoughts
about leisure and aging. Regularly we
hear people talk about the fact that ours
is a "work-oriented society." I would
like to raise the question as to what so-
ciety has not been work oriented as far
as the great majority of people are con-
cerned. The fact is that ours is the first
society where any large number of per-
sons can enjoy leisure at all. But we're


told that people have guilt feelings about
leisure and the use of it. This may be
true for some older people but I would
challenge its universality.
Are we not perhaps misled by the vocal
group of older people who feel very dis-
satisfied and are protesting against lei-
sure? Are we completely sure of our own
reactions to all of this? It is customary
for analysts to undergo analysis before
they are in a position to evaluate others.
In other words, they must begin by ac-
quiring the wisdom of knowing them-
selves. Are we altogether sure that we
know our own attitudes toward aging and
the aged? What I am gently suggesting
is that at times we project our own feel-
ings as those of the aged.
To be more specific let me talk about
engagement and disengagement. I have
noticed violent reactions of many geron-
tologists to the "disengagement theory."
I have observed the reverse with older
people. To several groups of older per-
sons. I have said: "Some gerontologists
think that with age comes disengage-
ment. By this they mean that as you
grow older you have fewer friends, attend
fewer social events, visit fewer people,
and participate less 'in the community.
Now these changes, the gerontologists
say, are due partly to the individual de-
liberately cutting down in order to con-
serve his strength, and partly to the fact
that society tends to cut him out of
things." The typical response from older

persons has been "So what's new about
that? Any fool knows that." Now this
isn't to say that all liked the idea. But
it seems to me that most older people I've
talked to are able to look at the theory
with considerably more objectivity than
many gerontologists.
I am not concerned here with the cor-
rectness or incorrectness of the theory,
nor of its relevance, but rather with the
reaction to it that is sometimes exhibited.
With regard to the theory, I feel we are
dealing with a subjective state that can-
not be measured by a number of overt
activities. The busy 40-year-old sales-
man who makes hundreds of contacts
may be really very little engaged in this
world. The deeply reflective older per-
son with relatively few contacts may be
deeply engaged in a psychological sense.
However, whether this is correct or not is
less important than the fact that as sci-
entists we ought to be able to examine
theories on their own basis and the emo-
tional response that has been elicited by
it would indicate that there has been an
irrational nerve struck somewhere.
While I have spoken of the fancies-
real or imagined-I am aware of the con-
tributions made by dedicated workers,
of the insightful research of gifted sci-
entists, of the commitment and progress
of community leaders. In fact, almost
the whole of this conference is an excit-
ing recounting of progress in our chosen


A Philosophy of Aging

programs that will be discussed here is the
development of the basic ingredient-the
sine qua non-of successful aging-a
philosophy of life. There is growing a
philosophy which recognizes realistically
the decrements of age but also those in-
crements which have never been better
described than by Cicero in De Senectute.
It is a philosophy that recognizes the ele-
ment of the tragic that is inherent in life,
yet one that offers solace for each stage
of the life cycle. It is not a philosophy
that seeks to keep one young, for such a
view would be an admission of the com-
plete lack of awareness of the richness
and contentment that can come with age.
It is a philosophy that accepts the aged
not as some strange subspecies but as
equal humans. It is a philosophy that
Dr. Thomas Rudd, British physician, fol-
lowed in working with the aged. "At
once sentimentality prompts us to do
something for the 'poor old folks,' Dr.
Rudd said. "Clearly, something needs to
be done, but if we are to do it well, our
thinking and our motives must be right.
Old age must be made tolerable, not be-
cause we are sorry for the old, but because
it is morally right and necessary that
people at all stages of life have a fair
In accepting the assignment to speak
on this topic, I was aware of the dangers
of being misunderstood, of being overly
critical, of being against all kinds of good

things, even of being anti-old people.
Such is not the intent. Let me close with
the sentiment with which I began. If
we as a group of professionals accept with-
out question the cliches, the stereotypes,
the unfounded assumptions that abound
in aging, we are not doing either the aged
or our profession a service. Such an ap-
proach blocks effective action by mis-
stating the facts. It blocks effective ac-
tion by posing the wrong question and it
blocks effective action by creating a false
Every speaker advocating truth should
abjure his hearers as did Socrates his in
Athens. "If you will be persuaded by
me, pay little attention to me, but much
more to the truth, and if I appear to you
to say anything true, assent to it, but if
not, oppose me with all your might, tak-
ing good care that in my zeal I do not de-
ceive both myself and you, and like a bee
depart, leaving my sting behind."
A decade later his most illustrious
pupil, Plato, softened this just a bit, and
I hope his words still are applicable to-
day: "Truth is the beginning of every
good thing, both in heaven and on earth;
and he who would be blessed and happy
should be from the first a partaker of the
truth, for then he can be trusted."


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