Dr. Bill Thomas: Introducing Eldertopia

August 09, 2011
Kavan Peterson, Editor, ChangingAging.org

What we need is a radical reinterpretation of longevity that makes elders (and their needs) central to our collective pursuit of happiness and well-being. We have no word that describes the value of intergenerational interdependence, of living in a multigenerational society, of protective social structures and rituals. Because such a word would be useful, I coined the term “Eldertopia.”

So begins the latest must-read manifesto on positive aging by Eden Alternative and Green House Project founder Dr. Bill Thomas in the latest issue of The Journal AARP International.

The feature article by Dr. Thoms begins by exploring the post-war generation’s growing awareness of aging and their inability to accept it. Bombarded by anti-aging messages in a mediascape that insistently proclaims young is better than old and adulthood can last forever, aging baby boomers have become conditioned to reject aging and view it through the narrow lens of decline.

The reality, says Dr. Thomas, is adulthood doesn’t last forever and the 78 million people who make up the post war generation must come to terms with the fact that they already are no longer young.

If you are taking time to read this article, the odds are that you are no longer young.  No one wants to acknowledge the passing of youth, and it is human nature to want to look our best. More to the point, we live in an ageist society, and smart people know how important it is to obscure the signs of aging skin whenever possible. What I am proposing here goes much deeper than the merely cosmetic.

You must have an intensely personal and private conversation with your own true, aging, self. The time has come to look into the mirror and, finally, make peace with the changes you see on your face and feel in your mind and body. You are not the person you were when you were 20 years old. You are not the person you were 20 years ago. The fact is that those people vanished a long time ago.

The path to personal happiness and fulfillment I am offering to you has just two steps:

1. Stop pining for what is already gone.
2. Start searching for the person you are meant to become.

Relinquishing one’s claim on youth is a necessary precondition for exploring life beyond adulthood, Dr. Thomas argues. American society’s next great cultural challenge will revolve around the definition of and worth assigned to aging and elderhood. Dr. Thomas envisions an old age that ripples with beauty, worth, and meaning. But to realize that vision will require a new understanding of the structure and function of human elderhood.

Because our language doesn’t have a word that describes elderhood, the value of intergenerational dependence and the role elders play in trasmitting culture across the generations, Dr. Thomas coined the phrase “Eldertopia.”

Eldertopia / ell-der-TOE-pee-uh / noun: A community that improves the quality of life for people of all ages by strengthening and improving the means by which (1) the community protects, sustains, and nurtures its elders, and (2) the elders contribute to the well-being and foresight of the community. An Eldertopia that is blessed with a large number of older people is acknowledged to be “elder-rich” and uses this wealth to advance the good of all.

Dr. Thomas proposes that the concept of Eldertopia can help the post war generation bridge the gap to a life beyond adulthood full of rich experiences and insights that are unavailable to adults and children. Elders, he argues, possess novel ways of approaching time, money, faith, childhood, and relationships and are capable of uniting us all with our shared past and future.

Furthermore, the extraordinary task of returning adulthood to its proper boundaries will require the emergence of a new generation of elders and the construction of a cultural bridge that connects them to society at large.   This will be the postwar generation’s last chance to right the wrongs that its unyielding embrace of adulthood have inflicted on our society and culture.

In short, we need elders like we never have before, Dr. Thomas says. If you agree, continue reading the full article here.

1 Comment. Leave new

Bravo! Thank you for the wonderful article! The more I work with seniors and their families, the more I’ve come to see the denial by families that their loved one is aging. Often, they don’t want to accept it because it means they are aging too, and this denial can cause so much confusion and pain.
And you’re right – I’m reading this article because I am no longer young…!

Thank you again!

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