Aged by Culture

Presented by Jo B. Paoletti, August 18, 2022 at the Riderwood Chapel

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How do we age? In her book, Aged by Culture, author Margaret Morganroth Gullette argues that the biological processes of maturation, aging, and dying are reshaped by our culture — media, mythology, and folklore old and new — often in the service of the marketplace. This happens to us at every age. We carry within us not only our own stories, but the narratives we have absorbed through the course of our lives. Being “aged by culture” means allowing those outside narratives to control our own personal stories. Let’s unpack those narratives and decide which ones are worth repeating, and which should probably be reconsidered. The anti-ageism movement is a valuable source of counter narratives for composing our last chapter.

Jo Paoletti and her partner Jim moved to Riderwood in March 2020, right along with COVID. She is Professor Emerita of American Studies from the University of Maryland and the author of many articles and two books on gender and clothing. This talk draws on what might become book 3, if she can put away her knitting long enough.

Resources on Aging, Ageism, and Eldering

  • Applewhite, Ashton. This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against Ageism. 1st edition, Celadon Books, 2019.
  • . . .  This Chair Rocks, website and blog.
  • Aronson, Louise. Elderhood. Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.
  • Butler, Robert N. The Longevity Revolution: The Benefits and Challenges of Living a Long Life. PublicAffairs, 2010.
  • From the High Hill (UUA.Org – Life writing retreat curriculum.
  • Gullette, Margaret Morganroth. Aged by Culture. University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Hindsight, Humor, and Hope: Who, Me, an Elder? (UUA.Org – Six part, twelve hour curriculum)
  • Levitin, Daniel J. Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. Dutton, 2020.
  • Programs for Older Adults (, Articles and other resources.)
  • Schachter-Shalomi, Zalman. From Age-Ing to Sage-Ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older. Grand Central Pub, 2014.
  • Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Fear, Courage & Sage-Ing. Interview with Reb Zalman, By Mary Nurrie Stearns

The Elder Creed

An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for, and connection to, the future.

An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy, and pleasure, and her or his birthright to these remains intact.

Moreover, an elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.

— Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Eldering Prayer

Spirit of Wisdom.

We give thanks for each moment, for this precious life. We direct our intention toward recognizing what we have learned through life’s joys and challenges, and celebrate all we have been and all we are becoming. May we find ways to appreciate the struggles of others, to reach out beyond ourselves with the gifts we can offer, and to continue our journey of growth and learning through contemplation and service. 


— Rev. Ashley Burczak

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