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betting on the both of them

October 19, 2011

Most of what I think about lately is school. Therefore I scramble through work, fling myself passionately on the mercy of my patient relationship and make it pancakes when I can, and never ever update my blog. I am attempting to avoid guilt on all fronts, by working from the office sometimes and remotely pretty much 24/7; by improving my fluffy pancake flipping skills on a Sunday by Sunday basis; and now, by posting a bunch of my thoughts about school on my blog.

Hey…you have to share what you’re eat sleeping and breathing, right?

Disengagement vs. Activity Theories of Old Age

I think that the disengagement theory begins sinking its roots well before old age; it’s the middle aged parents who think their children listen to crap music, and that back when they were young everything was of higher quality and ethics were more firmly fixed in the realm of the beneficial. I’m only twenty seven and I’ve disengaged myself so deeply from most new pop culture that I had no idea who Justin Beiber was until several months ago…and I admit I still really have no idea and I don’t care either. Ask me about Dire Straits or Simon and Garfunkle however… Part of the disengagement theory is based on an individual’s basic feeling that his own timeline is the best. One of the reasons disengagement becomes so drastic in old age is that one begins to lose ‘one’s people’ to the most inevitable affect of old age, death. Having one’s people, a person’s particular cohort, family, and friend base, is very important to activity in any phase of life. Teenagers go through a spectacular period of finding out who they are and who their people are, and it is my opinion that people continue this selection process for the rest of their lives.
I think that disengagement is not necessarily a good thing, but I think it is inevitable at some points on some levels. There are simply things and persons that you have no inclination for and no interest in, and during adulthood and middle age this selectiveness is called specialization, when an individual realizes that they cannot do it all, have specific interests and strengths, and proceeds to pursue a particular life path. This very naturally causes disengagement from other possible life paths, and while it is always possible to jump the track, whatever path is chosen a myriad others must fall away.
I think that at any point in life the positive aspects of the activity theory can descend into a ‘busy ethic.’ It’s the same thing as ‘if you would just distract yourself, you’d feel better.’ This is how we wind up with ‘fixers,’ people who cannot feel comfortable unless they are actually ‘doing something’ all the time, whether or not it necessarily needs to be done, whether or not their lives and relationships are suffering for the lack of stillness and reflection.
I think both theories are equally represented in the aging process, and different people exhibit different levels of each. I also think that a little of both is necessary to live a balanced life at any age.
Both of the theories neglect specifics, of course; a person’s cognitive, physical, financial and emotional abilities and needs have a large part to play in whether their combination of disengagement and activity will be well balanced.
Most activity programs that I know of in retirement centers are based on the acknowledgement of and distaste for the enforced reality of disengagement that a retirement center by default creates, and the recognition that this must be tempered with as much activity and interaction as is possible to somewhat artificially produce.
I think any retirement or assisted living center could benefit from a program that introduces its residents into the surrounding community in a normal and consistent way. My favorite idea is Big Grandparents, where cognitively and physically capable elders could be paired with children for after school tutoring, mentoring and the deep, focused attention every child needs and most in our society are struggling to get.

Here is my absolutely favorite thing about Justin Beiber:

I am

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