When we talk about calamity, we make progress. Calamity begins with experiences of major loss or misfortune that create distress, misery and suffering. We can be in an individual or collective state of calamity. Although the definition has hardly changed in the last century, our words have: Disaster, tragedy, catastrophe, affliction and adversary. States of calamity develop into a sense of vitality through isms in which we develop a set of beliefs to be acted on. These beliefs determine our path forward. Feminism, activism, sexism, ageism…these are agents of change. When we define, we acknowledge. We come together in calamity to determine and create a change in perspective.
In many ways, what I have learned this week is that I’m not alone. I was fortunate enough to spend the evening before International Women’s Day with a group of inspiring feminists. I felt at home in the struggle between system and society, a grass-roots perspective which dramatically rejects our current realities. We put importance in the main body, in the very lives that are being challenged. We look at suffering as an agent for change. If this weren’t a struggle it wouldn’t exist, that is the nature of our work. Ageism exists in current attempts to build age friendly cities without the direct experience of those currently ageing with and without vitality. I suggest a change in perspective from ageing to living. Who has lived in this world the longest? Who has the most experience in life?
Ageism is the result of system not society. Prior to the institutionalization of individuals based on age, older adults were universally perceived as just that, adults who are older. When family wasn’t available to care, the community did, just as Aboriginal social helpers did. Those institutionalized prior to the addition old-age pension schemes were most commonly there for mental illnesses. This was also in a time where Down syndrome was not separate from an individual, they were described as Mongoloids. People who have been diagnosed are now being offered opportunities to identify with more than the various characteristics that lead to a medical identity. Temple Grandin, Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking…through expressed experiences we begin to knock down the barriers of stigma.
Defining and acknowledging ageism leads to action. We have the right to decide who we are and what identifies us. Labels limit our possibilities for change, for the peace and movement that bring us our sense of vitality. Without this vitality we find it difficult to get up and go in the morning, seeing each day as anew becomes clouded and small hardships become surmounting challenges. This is rooted in limited freedom to choose and limit who we are and where we want to be. This is Calamity.
A new direction is willing and waiting in the voices of our society’s most vulnerable. A Lifeworld-led approach to care is known in Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom as an authentic alternative to our current practices. Age-friendly plans are currently being developed and implemented across Canadian cities and yet the goals for action can only deliver authentic change if they are led from the lives of those who currently live the experiences we desire to enhance.
We need someone to say we hear you, we care for you and we will take action with you. We need laws and regulations to hold the actions and in-actions that limit our sense of vitality accountable. We cannot get there on our current projections which are leading us to further struggle. Yet it’s really an age-old story of detachment, the ease of separating us from them when you yet to be the other. We cannot deny our one genuine connection with our world and the world we live in: Mortality. When we realize the simplicity of ageing as living, we enhance our everyday life experience. We need to step down, offer our arm and walk alongside one another. Welcome to vitality in a state of calamity.