Recently, I was on my way to the barbershop, ok hair-stylist, talking with a family member about graying hair. I’m sporting a bit of salt and pepper and we were laughing about how that makes men look more distinguished. It turns out although she has beautiful brown hair, she has been graying longer than she wanted to admit and has been frequenting a hair colorist ever since. Many of us can empathize.
Here’s the thing: she is youthful, vibrant, a great conversationalist, and beautiful – and those qualities don’t change just because she started to have gray hair in her twenties. Yet, in society today, the general bias around things like gray hair often has at least a subconscious effect on age and perception.
Challenging the Age Bias
A recent article in the Denver Business Journal tackled this very bias, surmising that in order to succeed in business women must color their hair so as not to appear too old. One solution– women should join together and boycott their hair colorists, relying on “strength in numbers” to break this age bias.
As appealing as this type of solution might be, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. Age bias and the fear that goes along with it come from the assumption that aging means de facto deterioration of our faculties, medical dependency, and so on. To address the bias we should be talking not just about looking younger, but actually questioning the assumption that deterioration is inevitably linked to aging.
Mary Baker Eddy, a deep thinker who studied and explored what the Bible says about eternal life and how it applies to daily life, wrote almost a century ago, “The continual contemplation of existence as material and corporeal – as beginning and ending, and with birth, decay, and dissolution as its component stages – hides the true and spiritual Life, and causes our standard to trail in the dust.”
Most people can get on board for changing how age is contemplated. Most of us intrinsically feel there is a mental component to aging – i.e. how you think and act has a direct effect on your youthfulness.
So results of studies like Counterclockwise by Harvard Psychology Professor Dr. Ellen Langer, that show that the way you think about age has direct physical effects, don’t seem so out of the ordinary today. And incidentally, the result of her study was that participants in their late 70s to early 80s who took a wholesale approach to changing their perception of aging (including the very conversations they had) resulted in measurable improvement in their hearing, vision, thought process and even physical strength.
But the idea of “spiritual Life” Eddy speaks of is something foreign or at least abstract to many, although it may hold the key to not only looking younger, but actually feeling that way.
Lessons I’ve learned about agelessness
When I was 30 I decided to begin attending a weekly community group, let’s call the group…a “church.” When I just wasn’t finding inroads into a cliquish peer group, I decided to tap into a group of members who had been part of the community for decades, many unafraid to show off a bit of their gray hair.
I looked at these selfless workers and saw that they ran the church, held services for anyone and for Sunday School students, did community outreach and lovingly maintained a 100 year old building located just a block from the capitol. And, they did it tirelessly and with joy, never complaining about soreness, exhaustion, frustration. They just cared for their church and its members. This seemed like a group that had tapped into a fountain of youth. They certainly had more energy and enthusiasm than I had.
But how to fit in? As I deepened my understanding of my own “spiritual life” and of how I saw these members, I could see that from a spiritual standpoint we were neither young or old. We were each and all just the eternal image of our Creator. I decided to make a concerted effort not to treat this group of church members as if there was an age difference between us. That’s not to say I treated them as if they were the same age, but I worked to treat them as I wanted to be treated, Golden Rule style. I would speak with respect, because I wanted to be respected. I treated them honestly and humbly, and I assumed these fledgling friends were wise and principled, because that’s how I viewed myself and so how I wanted to be viewed.
The result? Well, I became a member of that church and served, and still serve, side by side with those members. But in retrospect, I was only able to do this because they didn’t see me as too young or inexperienced; they didn’t judge that I hadn’t served the church for 40 or 50 years. They just took me in, Golden Rule style.
But there was something else?
What I learned is that those members were not looking at age at all. In fact, not once in 15 years of being at this church has any of them even disclosed his or her age to me. They looked not at my age, but at my qualities; they were judging whether I was diligent, patient, compassionate, perseverant – I suspect. And when I passed the test, or at least made a sincere effort, I was in the club.
And in this new community I served on many committees and the executive board, ran services and taught Sunday School, all while juggling a busy law career. My secret to better endurance and perseverance, just like my fellow church members, was and is all about how I view those spiritual qualities that come from reliance on a spiritual Life. “Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for God, will gain new strength…” (Isaiah) seems to say it well.
David Price writes on the connection between health, thinking and spirituality. A former attorney, David is the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in Colorado. David is also a Christian Science practitioner with an expertise in prayer-based healing.