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The Special Gifts of The Elderly for Life Review

Published by Chapster on 2006/3/11 (5334 reads)
"There's two kinds of sense: book sense and horse sense."

The elderly are uniquely gifted for pursuing life review. In fact, psychologist James Hillman argues that those under sixty years of age or so, are not meant to engage in life review.

While we might differ with his view in extent, he is certainly on point in principle. James Hillman writes:

"And without stories there is no pattern, no understanding, no art, and no character -- merely habits, events passing before the eyes of an aimless observer, a life unreviewed, a life lost in the living of it.

Correctly lost, I must quickly add, for the least reflected upon, most undigested life is very much worth living -- and the purpose of life in earlier years is to live it. Knowing comes later. Life review doesn't belong to earlier years. Memoirs, autobiographies, and the deep investigations of long-term psychoanalysis probably shouldn't be touched before sixty. Yet, kids in high school are asked to write about their memorable experiences and extract a lesson learned (Hillman, Force, p.91)."

This is the purpose of this class, to prevent the loss of life, yours and mine, by injecting timeless stories into a society that worships at the altar of the immediate. Only the elderly are truly able to take the long view. Though the eyes may have grown dim, the mind sees clearly.

In the excellent book, Family Tales, Family Wisdom, Robert Akeret, author and psychologist, speaks of four gifts unique to the elderly. These gifts enhance the ability to do meaningful life review.

• Crystallized Intelligence - Because the elderly have so many more life experiences to draw upon, they bring more resources to problem-solving and interpretation. When I was working as an electrician during my seminary years, I remember some of the older guys that I worked with. I would be figuring out how something should be wired up. I had all the computations right and everything worked out! As I set off to do the task, I thought I detected a glimmer of amusement. They would never come out and say that my approach was stupid, but it was certainly obvious on their faces. Three trips back to the shop later, I understood their pleasure. Though my computations may have been right on paper, the real world is filled with change and glitches. They understood this, because they were older, had encountered those glitches, and could see long term outcomes better than I.

• Creative Intelligence - Another gift that seems to be more prevalent with seniors is the ability to "think outside the box." At younger ages we may be more likely to be restricted in problem-solving and more constrained by societal rules. The rules hold less power for older adults. They are less initmidated by the possibility of failure or rejection and more interested in solving problems. Concerning this gift of the elderly for life review, Robert Akeret writes, "(They make)... creative connections between ideas, and come up with original solutions to problems. Again, these are prime talents for a storyteller (Akeret, Family Tales, 234)."

• Uncensored Intelligence - While in college, I worked at a carpet dying mill. There was a security guard who worked there who was very religious. There was also an ex-convict who worked there who seemed none too nice. Indeed, most folks gave him a wide berth, probably out of fears and rumors circulating about him. I remember one night when the little (and I do mean little) and wiry old security guard talked to that big old gruff ex-con "about his soul." It was quite a picture, these two entire opposites, talking in this way, with this smallish old man asking Joe to "get right with God." Later, I asked the security guard if he wasn't afraid to be talking so forthrightly with the most feared man in the mill. He told me, "I'm too old and I've seen too much to be afraid." This illustrates well the idea of uncensored intelligence. Uncensored intelligence is the knack of seniors to be more forthright about ideas and concepts. They are less likely to censor their ideas because others may not like them.

• Philosophical Intelligence - Ever talked with an elderly person about a pressing, but complex, decision? Have you observed the way they can often cut through all the complexities and get to the heart of the matter? This is philosohical intelligence. It is the ability to more carefully weigh the values and meanings encountered in life experiences. Philosohical intelligence comes by way of living life. It is not a taught quality but learned.

These unique properties of seniors make life review more meaningful and helpful. Not every older person has them in equal measure, if at all. But if one is to stereotype, these are some key gifts that endow the elderly with a special giftedness for life review.
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