The Virtues of Aging

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“The virtues of aging”? What could be positive in growing old? This question is asked by many people and no matter how young they are. Aging is considered to bring more negative effects to human life than positive ones.

This opinion is based on widely spread prejudices regarding the elderly. Nevertheless, these prejudices make sense, due to the fact that while growing older, people lose many valuable things which they used to have in their juvenility like health, both mental and physical strengths, single-mindedness, friends and relatives. Carter states, that everything what happens to human in his old age is due to his actions that took place in the early years. It is typical to youth to neglect their health and other important things, due to the absence of experience and due to the abundance of mental and physical health and other valuables, but by the old age the balance is tilting the opposite direction and the abundance of health is replaced by the great experience and understanding of the loss.

"When are we old?", asks Carter in his book. We are when we accept an attitude of dormancy, dependence on others, substantial limitation of physical and mental activity, and restrictions on the number of people with whom we interact (Fallows, James A. 1998). Carter says that we are not alone in our worry about physical aspects of aging and the prejudice that exists towards the elderly, which is rather similar to sexism or racism, but there is one thing that makes it different.  Such prejudice exists not only among those, who are out of this group, but also among those, who are within this group, or are rapidly approaching it. I agree with the statement up to a point. Young people are afraid of losing what they have and changes they are to face or the changes they do not want to occur. Not only the younger generations, but almost all the people are afraid of future, which might be unclear or different in greater way. Those people, who are approaching the old ages, have the same anxiety, due to the fact of understanding the changes occurring, limitation of activities and restriction of the number of friends and interactions.

When Carter left the White House in 1981, he asked himself the questions that many elder Americans ask, when retirement approaches. How can people get used to the situations and unpleasant circumstances that they face? What were their abilities and assets? Is it possible for people to be satisfied in the future as much, as they had been during their early years, which were more adventurous, interesting and successful? Is there anything good that was done (Carter, J. 1998)? If you try to answer all these questions, you will not find too many positive aspects, but Carter in his book has proved, that nothing is as bad, as it seems.

After being the member of Georgia Senate from the 14th district, the 76th governor of Georgia and the 39th president of the USA he suddenly understood, that this was the end of career. He has done many great things. The questions he asked himself regarded the life he has spent in politics, the things he has done for the country, the things to do now, after the retirement, but he did not consider this to be enough to lose his heart. It is necessary to understand that the changes and unpleasant circumstances people encounter, do not differ greatly from the ones they have faced in the early days. Only the form has changed, but not the kernel. All that people need is the willingness to change something, no matter who you are, or who you used to be. There is no need in being the former president to make a difference in your own life and the lives of other people. All is in your own hands and your attitude to the situation. In case of health problems it is necessary to do regular sport activities and follow an appropriate diet. The same attitude should exist towards the empty space, caused by the free time and lack of activities, or any other changes.

The older people get, the less active they are due to the biological laws of life, what leads to the empty space in their lives, but Carter refutes this fact. Despite all the negative factors and prejudice facing the elderly, there are plenty of advantages of being old.  The first time when Jimmy Carter realized real benefits of the age was his seventieth birthday.

That day he was interviewed by Barbara Walters, as he writes in his book, and she asked a question: “Mr. President, you used to have various interesting, challenging and exciting careers. What years were the best?” After certain thinking, he said that the best period of his life is now, what still sounds unusual, paying attention to all the negative aspects, but Carter explained his answer clearly. The reason of the answer is the time. After the retirement people obtain the great amount of time due to the lack of activities and people to interact with, what is usually considered being the emptiness and leads to disappointment. Jimmy claims that obtained time can be used for the analysis of past years, evaluating the actions and correction of the mistakes that took place due to the foolishness that is typical to young people, or the lack of experience. Obtained time can be used for spending more time with relatives and rising the grandchildren up. Carter depicts the happy marriage with his wife, the relationships that deepened through the years and became much stronger when Carter and Rosalynn became grandparents, what clearly shows the virtue of aging.

 I think this is kind of jump into the past, where they first became parents, but without all the difficulties with sleeping, feeding and etc. that young parents face. This jump brings more happiness to their lives, making them feel the same pleasure they felt before. The age fills the glass of wisdom and knowledge, what should be used for sharing with the future generations, especially with the grandchildren.

There are certain benefits of aging, despite sharing and analyzing. While still being at the post of the president of the United States, Jimmy and his wife received a notice from American association of the retired persons, qualifying them for membership, but Carter did not consider himself old enough to face the stigma of senior citizenship. Once, after the retirement together with his wife they attended the cafe on the halfway to Atlanta after having a breakfast they were surprised. It seemed as there was a mistake in the bill, but the waitress confirmed that there was no mistake. In the morning before eight o’clock, café provides free coffee for the senior citizens. Jimmy says that he was laughing, and I think this situation clearly shows that there are plenty of benefits. When people are young, they work for the country, for the prosperity, but when they are old, the country works for them and so they do.

Before reading “The virtues of aging”, I used to share the opinion that was described at the beginning of the paper. Old ages for me seemed to be the fading of activity, ending of the life path and did not promise to bring any happiness, but what I like is that Carter has shown me all of the positive aspects of growing old, despite widely spread prejudices regarding the weakening of physical activity and communication with people.

All the free time can be used for communication with family, raising the grandchildren, analysis of the past, planning the future. This made me think, that retirement is also the best time due to the hobbies. There is always lack of free time for the things you like when are working, but after the retirement situation changes. As it is stated previously, when people are young, they work for the country, but then they are able to spend the time for themselves, which is great.

Carter clearly shows that life goes on, plans are being built and there are no reasons for losing your heart. In 2002 Jonny Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in finding peaceful solutions to international conflicts, in advancing democracy and human rights, and in promotion of economic and social development (Norwegian Nobel Committee, 2002). Other presidents also have been awarded, but what is unique is that Carter received the Prize after the retirement. No matter who you are or who you used to be, you still have the ability to change your life, the life of the people surrounding you and to do something useful.

The knowledge and experience have inherited from the book let me know that all the circumstances of my current way of life will be reflected in the older years. Even if something was missed during the juvenility, there is nothing to regret about, due to the fact that by growing older I acquire more experience, become wiser and begin to understand the value of what I am having now. It is clear for me that the future I will approach after the retirement can be more satisfying, than my current life, due to the attitude to the changes and problems I will face.

The book allowed me to understand the value of communication with close people, relatives and friends, the importance of such communication and usage of “the glass of wisdom” for teaching and sharing with the closest people.  Nevertheless, the most important lesson I have learned from the book is the changed relation to the elder people. Jimmy Carter has shown the feelings of the human, who are approaching the old ages, what we all will face. What is more important, how to resist unfavorable factors and see the better side of life.  

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