> Spirituality > Personal Growth

Dear Old People, It’s Never Too Late to Grow

April 24, 2018 | by Emuna Braverman

We can’t blame the process of aging for being grumpy, callous or self-centered. We can still change.

Not that it’s necessary but it’s always nice to see Torah ideas reaffirmed through scientific studies. In that spirit I welcome the results of the research from the Longevity Center at UCLA which concluded that “It’s never too late to change our personalities to live happier lives.”

We tend to think that the “personal growth” muscle ages as we do, perhaps to the point of atrophy. As we look around we too often see elderly who not only haven’t grown but in fact have regressed. I’m not referring here to dementia or Alzheimer’s or other cognitive issues beyond their control. I’m talking about their personalities.

Frequently it seems that people revert to their baser selves, their less-controlled selves, feeling that age gives them license to say what they think – to express anger and frustration and criticism, never minding who they hurt along the way. They may be older but they don’t seem wiser, or more caring and considerate.

And they (I really mean “we”) don’t get a pass. As we age, we are not permitted to just sit back on our laurels and assume that our time of work is over. Perhaps even as our work in the world slows down, our internal work intensifies. But we certainly don’t have the excuse that it’s not possible. We can’t blame the process of aging for our failure to work on our character – for being gruff and grumpy or callous and cruel, for being gloomy and pessimistic or hurtful and self-centered.

As Dr. Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist at Miami Jewish Health (where I’m guessing he gets a good sampling of the appropriate population!) puts it, “I think a clear message that aging individuals need to hear is the power of their resilience. We all tend to realize that our bodies are less physically resilient, and so we are more vulnerable to disease and injury. However, we also have the benefit of learning coping mechanisms in the face of adversity, and this can make us psychologically more resilient.”

In other words, it’s actually never too late.

He continues, “This resilience is a powerful tool in later life, enabling our minds to lead us through important changes, including to our personalities.”

In other words, we are still responsible to grow and change. Our real work is not yet done and there are no excuses.

That message is both daunting and empowering. Because even though it seems more comfortable to be finished with this effort, we don’t really want to accept that we’re stuck, that there is no further opportunities for growth available to us in this world. In some way that would be like accepting a type of premature death.

So let’s embrace these findings that validate and illuminate the Torah perspective that there is hope and growth and change available right up until our very last moments. We don’t get a free pass because we are older. We don’t get to treat people cavalierly or worse with cruelty. We don’t get to just wave away our bad behavior with a dismissive “That’s just who I am,” no matter how old we are, no matter how infirm we may be.

We all have a responsibility to be happy, to face life with joy and to treat others with consideration. The fact that this never ends is not bad news; it’s exciting news. And motivation to keep living!

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