This is disturbing. So much so, that I had a hard time sleeping last night. In a moment you’ll know why. I hope you are disturbed too.
I imagined, as I was preparing to write, that I might entitle this piece “Uncommon Sense.” But, I’ve already written something with that title. I was drawn to that way of entitling this missive, because it was a play on Thomas Paine’s revolution inducing essay, “Common Sense.” I realized last night that what is here is revolutionary. Here’s why.
This line of thought started when I was watching the Newshour on PBS. In a feature segment called “In My Humble Opinion,” a guest addressed trauma. She said essentially that trauma survivors were more traumatized by the reactions of the ones around them. By being treated as damaged by their loved ones, they came to believe themselves damaged, and to correspondingly suffer like they were. The power of social belief was so great it piled insurmountable hurt upon them. Only those intact enough, within themselves, had any immunity to these social views.
She was not traumatized, although she had been through two wars in Africa, and had come to America as a black woman. She was solid enough to speak out on TV, about what appeared to her, as a powerfully defining and painful social force. Only by defining herself, had she resisted becoming the quivering survivor of harrowing events, defined (by herself and others) as forever tainted by what she had been through. Her support system was prepared to provide her with a life sentence, as someone traumatized. She was savvy enough to know that form of help didn’t help, in fact, it could hurt her, if she let it.
Thank heavens she went beyond conventional practices, and made her voice heard. She named our social belief structure for the disabling agent it sometimes is. There are people walking around now, who are wearing the scars of these misbegotten assumptions. You may be one of them.
I consider knowing this disturbing, because I can see the same thing happening to old people. The societal assumption is that the old person is headed down hill in an inevitable decline. There seems to be an invisible funnel, which envisions old people headed down, into the narrowing end. Ageist beliefs end up channeling most of the elderly into diminishment. A few, intact enough to resist, exhibit post-traumatic growth and demonstrate the realization that the funnel is actually the other way round. Aging unleashes unimagined potential. They grow until they dissolve into a greater way of being.
Social beliefs, are disabling, far more so, than disturbing events. This is a painful truth, one that is truly traumatizing. Old people thrive when they escape the debilitating assumptions of common ignorance. Mass mind — the beliefs that define a culture — evoke a reality that makes post-traumatic growth difficult, but not impossible. The ones who have escaped, say more about themselves than us, but as a minority, they say enough about us, to be revolutionary wisdom.
Graying challenges us — to go beyond the traumatizing beliefs of a culture, mad with the assumptions of adulthood—and to become, not the discarded drone, but a real human being. The old beliefs don’t help. But, there are fresh assumptions, even not knowing, that offer a child-like new beginning, and mesmerizing new potentials. Thanks to post-traumatic growth, a new enchanted world is becoming more obvious.
I hope, that knowing of the power of collective ignorance, disturbs you, it does me.