Moral fatigue…

When COVID hit my community, I first felt discombobulated. That seemed perfectly understandable.

But three months in, I was experiencing a deep sense of fatigue. That surprised me because I thought I should be feeling better, not worse, once I knew the protocols and developed new habits. But there I was—feeling out of sorts and profoundly tired of the whole thing.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one. In the midst of my wallowing in that unhappy place, I heard an episode of Tapestry that directly addressed what I was feeling. They were discussing the experience of moral fatigue that arises when we are faced with making decisions where there are no right answers and yet we can’t do nothing.

Moral disorientation…

Recently my Tasmanian friend Gill, now in her mid-80s, said that it seems the world has been turned upside down and back to front. I agree! As the pandemic has unfolded, it’s been deeply unsettling to discover that  things we thought were normal have been exposed as deeply flawed, eldercare being just one example.

The dilemma is that once we see something, we can’t un-see it. Not only that but, as decent human beings, we feel the desire to do something to make things better, without having any idea how one person can make a difference in such an enormous problem. This creates a high level of stress in the body, often resulting in a shutdown or freezing of the nervous system. On top of that, we are now recognizing that this predicament is not going away any time soon. No wonder we’re feeling moral fatigue!

And it’s not just these collective dilemmas that weigh on us. Our everyday decisions have taken on a new dimension. As I write this, the start of a new school year is looming. The government in my province has announced that a full in-school schedule will resume with COVID protocols in place, which some parents feel are inadequate. This re-opening is at a time when new cases are announced each day. Parents can choose to school their children at home, but that is fraught with another set of logistical challenges that have to do with family livelihood for many. How is a parent to decide what is best in a situation like this? The stress of trying to “get it right” must be enormous.

For further insight, I recommend listening to Tapestry with Mary Hynes, from June 28, 2020:  Navigating the moral maze of the pandemic. The program description says, “In our new COVID-19 world, decisions that were once easy — going to the park, visiting friends and family — are suddenly more complex and morally fraught. Philosopher Alice MacLaughlin and moral psychologist Azim Shariff offer some ethical guidance.”

And if any of this prompts you to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Changing Our Minds About Aging

***  Time for this post? Reading… 5 minutes. Listening… 28 minutes. 

In North America, we have a bad impression of aging. Most of us would like to avoid it. Since that isn’t possible, we tend to ignore the subject as much as we can.

And really, who would want to get old, considering that the cultural messages are largely disparaging and dismissive. We are generally seen as failing adults, rather than people with something to contribute.

Where can we find a better vision of aging?

I was inspired by an interview I heard a few days ago on CBC’s “Tapestry.” Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Marc Agronin has written a book which is invites us to stop thinking of aging as an “implacable enemy and start seeing it as a developmental force for enhancing well-being, meaning, and longevity.” A summary of The End of Old Age goes on to say:

the focus is squarely on: “So what does this mean for me and my family?” In the final part of the book, Dr. Agronin provides simple but revealing charts that you can fill out to identify, develop, and optimize your unique age-given strengths.

It’s nothing short of an action plan to help you age better by improving how you value the aging process, guide yourself through stress, and find ways to creatively address change for the best possible experience and outcome.

Dr. Agronin is an expert in Alzheimer’s disease and other geriatric mental health issues, and runs both a memory center and one of Florida’s largest Alzheimer’s clinical research programs. He is the author of nine books and hundreds of articles, has been published in the New York Times, and writes regular blogs on aging and retirement issues for the Wall Street Journal.

In the interview, he said that if we celebrated when people enter older stages of life, there would be a really profound shift in the way society thinks about aging. Instead of dreading it, we would look forward to it.

Dr. Agronin has plenty of experience with older people since his average patient is 90 years of age. He does not deny the challenges they face. But I was struck by how he’s able to both acknowledge the downsides of aging and yet still see that aging has the potential to be about growth, change, and even strength.

Age-given strengths…

Strength is not something we typically associate with aging. I think that’s because we have a narrow view that defines strength as only physical robustness. Yet, Dr. Agronin says he has seen people who are both frail and vital at the same time.  Their strength, he says, is in their wisdom, purpose, and creativity—qualities that grow and deepen with age.

For a longer presentation that develops Dr. Agronin’s ideas about the five aspects of wisdom, among other things, go here.

There’s a lot that begs for further exploration. Next week we’ll consider the intriguing notion that age might be just a state of mind.