Different cultures have different attitudes and practices around aging and death, and these cultural perspectives can have a huge effect on our experience of getting older.
While many cultures celebrate the aging process and venerate their elders, in Western cultures -- where youth is fetishized and the elderly are commonly removed from the community and relegated to hospitals and nursing homes -- aging can become a shameful experience. Physical signs of human aging tend to be regarded with distaste, and aging is often depicted in a negative light in popular culture, if it is even depicted at all.
"There's so much shame in our culture around aging and death," Koshin Paley Ellison, Buddhist monk and co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, told the Huffington Post. "People themselves when they're aging feel that there's something wrong with them and they're losing value."
Psychologist Erik Erickson argued that the Western fear of aging keeps us from living full lives. "Lacking a culturally viable ideal of old age, our civilization does not really harbor a concept of the whole of life," he wrote.
Here's what we can learn from other cultures, both past and present, about embracing the aging process.
Lets Talk First of Greek:
"Old man" isn't a bad word in Greek.
The Western cultural stigma around aging and death doesn't exist in Greece. In Greek and Greek-American culture, old age is honored and celebrated, and respect for elders is central to the family.
Arianna Huffington described an experience of Greek elderly respect in her book, On Becoming Fearless:
"Ten years ago I visited the monastery of Tharri on the island of Rhodes with my children. There, as in all of Greece, abbots are addressed by everyone as 'Geronda,' which means 'old man.' Abbesses are called 'Gerondissa.' Not exactly terms of endearment in my adopted home. The idea of honoring old age, indeed identifying it with wisdom and closeness to God, is in startling contrast to the way we treat aging in America."