The primary intent of this chapter is to offer a manifesto in praise of growing whole, not old. This will seem strange only to those unable to recognize the widespread societal antipathy toward growing old. But given the inevitability of the aging process, it's clear any intractable aversion is wrong-headed.
Growing older offers distinctive opportunity for growing whole. If this opportunity should be denied, as it is for many people, both the individual and society as a whole lose. If people in the second half of life are not encouraged to deal with their aging as a vital stage of growth, the rest of us are cut off from wisdom that only the most experienced among us can provide.
Thus, we need a manifesto for growing whole—for bringing forth the wisdom long thought to be a mark of elders. We think of this as a manifesto for the new elder. The dignity inherent in aging is to be seen in the way new elders relate to themselves and the world.
Inevitably, we all have assumptions about how aging is likely to go for us. Most of us tend to have an anachronistic picture of what it means to be elderly. One of the important points we have tried to make in this book, though, is that new elders and elderly are not the same thing.
Through our research and interviews with new elders, we have come to realize that we are living on the boundary between the elderly and the new elder. We need to challenge our outmoded ideas about aging and replace them with bold new ones. Insights are needed and choices must be made.
At the time of the writing of this book, statistics say that, in the United States, 10,000 baby boomers a day are turning 50 years old. That's approximately four million a year for the next 18 years. Two-thirds of all the people who have ever lived past 65 are alive today. Never before in history have so many people entered into this later stage of life so vital, so healthy, and so free. And never before have so many had such a hunger for direction in how to live this stage in a purposeful way.
New elders today have a lot more time to age before they become elderly. With that time, we believe that their biggest personal challenge will be to reinvent themselves for what this longevity could mean.
Carl Jung's observation, "That which youth found and had to find outside of itself, in the second half of life must be found within," rings increasingly true for many people in the second half of life
It's time for a new manifesto for growing whole, not old. This manifesto is illuminated by the four flames of vital aging—principles that can transform the second half of our lives.
Growing whole can free us, personally—and our aging society—to discover a more powerful sense of calling in the second half of life. Becoming a whole new elder can lead to a stage of evolution in our own lives that can also be the key to the evolution and survival of our aging society.
The huge new wave of "seasoned citizens" has to have some function in the survival of the community and our species. It has to go beyond our personal future to the future of the whole. There needs to be a new elder movement that will rekindle the fires necessary for society to productively use the wisdom of age.
Evolution, however, must first come from within. We must claim our place at the fire. Claiming means growing and giving in the elder years of life as whole persons in society. It means using our unique gifts and our stored wisdom to help society move in new, life-affirming directions.
And through our courage, we will create a new elder society. By claiming our place at the fire, we will give voice to what we really think and feel at last. We will move with dignity and presence into that unknown future that we are helping to shape for generations to come.
Here then, is the manifesto by which we will claim our place at the fire.