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  • There have been many revolutions

  • over the last century,

  • but perhaps none as significant

  • as the longevity revolution.

  • We are living on average today

  • 34 years longer than our great-grandparents did.

  • Think about that.

  • That's an entire second adult lifetime

  • that's been added to our lifespan.

  • And yet, for the most part,

  • our culture has not come to terms with what this means.

  • We're still living with the old paradigm

  • of age as an arch.

  • That's the metaphor, the old metaphor.

  • You're born, you peak at midlife

  • and decline into decrepitude.

  • (Laughter)

  • Age as pathology.

  • But many people today --

  • philosophers, artists, doctors, scientists --

  • are taking a new look at what I call the third act,

  • the last three decades of life.

  • They realize that this is actually a developmental stage of life

  • with its own significance --

  • as different from midlife

  • as adolescence is from childhood.

  • And they are asking -- we should all be asking --

  • how do we use this time?

  • How do we live it successfully?

  • What is the appropriate new metaphor

  • for aging?

  • I've spent the last year researching and writing about this subject.

  • And I have come to find

  • that a more appropriate metaphor for aging

  • is a staircase --

  • the upward ascension of the human spirit,

  • bringing us into wisdom, wholeness

  • and authenticity.

  • Age not at all as pathology;

  • age as potential.

  • And guess what?

  • This potential is not for the lucky few.

  • It turns out,

  • most people over 50

  • feel better, are less stressed,

  • are less hostile, less anxious.

  • We tend to see commonalities

  • more than differences.

  • Some of the studies even say

  • we're happier.

  • This is not what I expected, trust me.

  • I come from a long line of depressives.

  • As I was approaching my late 40s,

  • when I would wake up in the morning

  • my first six thoughts would all be negative.

  • And I got scared.

  • I thought, oh my gosh.

  • I'm going to become a crotchety old lady.

  • But now that I am actually smack-dab in the middle of my own third act,

  • I realize I've never been happier.

  • I have such a powerful feeling of well-being.

  • And I've discovered

  • that when you're inside oldness,

  • as opposed to looking at it from the outside,

  • fear subsides.

  • You realize, you're still yourself --

  • maybe even more so.

  • Picasso once said, "It takes a long time to become young."

  • (Laughter)

  • I don't want to romanticize aging.

  • Obviously, there's no guarantee

  • that it can be a time of fruition and growth.

  • Some of it is a matter of luck.

  • Some of it, obviously, is genetic.

  • One third of it, in fact, is genetic.

  • And there isn't much we can do about that.

  • But that means that two-thirds

  • of how well we do in the third act,

  • we can do something about.

  • We're going to discuss what we can do

  • to make these added years really successful

  • and use them to make a difference.

  • Now let me say something about the staircase,

  • which may seem like an odd metaphor for seniors

  • given the fact that many seniors are challenged by stairs.

  • (Laughter)

  • Myself included.

  • As you may know,

  • the entire world operates on a universal law:

  • entropy, the second law of thermodynamics.

  • Entropy means that everything in the world, everything,

  • is in a state of decline and decay,

  • the arch.

  • There's only one exception to this universal law,

  • and that is the human spirit,

  • which can continue to evolve upwards --

  • the staircase --

  • bringing us into wholeness,

  • authenticity and wisdom.

  • And here's an example of what I mean.

  • This upward ascension

  • can happen even in the face of extreme physical challenges.

  • About three years ago,

  • I read an article in the New York Times.

  • It was about a man named Neil Selinger --

  • 57 years old, a retired lawyer --

  • who had joined the writers group at Sarah Lawrence

  • where he found his writer's voice.

  • Two years later,

  • he was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

  • It's a terrible disease. It's fatal.

  • It wastes the body, but the mind remains intact.

  • In this article, Mr. Selinger wrote the following

  • to describe what was happening to him.

  • And I quote,

  • "As my muscles weakened,

  • my writing became stronger.

  • As I slowly lost my speech,

  • I gained my voice.

  • As I diminished, I grew.

  • As I lost so much,

  • I finally started to find myself."

  • Neil Selinger, to me,

  • is the embodiment of mounting the staircase

  • in his third act.

  • Now we're all born with spirit, all of us,

  • but sometimes it gets tamped down

  • beneath the challenges of life,

  • violence, abuse, neglect.

  • Perhaps our parents suffered from depression.

  • Perhaps they weren't able to love us

  • beyond how we performed in the world.

  • Perhaps we still suffer

  • from a psychic pain, a wound.

  • Perhaps we feel that many of our relationships have not had closure.

  • And so we can feel unfinished.

  • Perhaps the task of the third act

  • is to finish up the task of finishing ourselves.

  • For me, it began as I was approaching my third act,

  • my 60th birthday.

  • How was I supposed to live it?

  • What was I supposed to accomplish in this final act?

  • And I realized that, in order to know where I was going,

  • I had to know where I'd been.

  • And so I went back

  • and I studied my first two acts,

  • trying to see who I was then,

  • who I really was --

  • not who my parents or other people told me I was,

  • or treated me like I was.

  • But who was I? Who were my parents --

  • not as parents, but as people?

  • Who were my grandparents?

  • How did they treat my parents?

  • These kinds of things.

  • I discovered a couple of years later

  • that this process that I had gone through

  • is called by psychologists

  • "doing a life review."

  • And they say it can give new significance

  • and clarity and meaning

  • to a person's life.

  • You may discover, as I did,

  • that a lot of things that you used to think were your fault,

  • a lot of things you used to think about yourself,

  • really had nothing to do with you.

  • It wasn't your fault; you're just fine.

  • And you're able to go back

  • and forgive them

  • and forgive yourself.

  • You're able to free yourself

  • from your past.

  • You can work to change

  • your relationship to your past.

  • Now while I was writing about this,

  • I came upon a book called "Man's Search for Meaning"

  • by Viktor Frankl.

  • Viktor Frankl was a German psychiatrist

  • who'd spent five years in a Nazi concentration camp.

  • And he wrote that, while he was in the camp,

  • he could tell, should they ever be released,

  • which of the people would be okay

  • and which would not.

  • And he wrote this:

  • "Everything you have in life can be taken from you

  • except one thing,

  • your freedom to choose

  • how you will respond

  • to the situation.

  • This is what determines

  • the quality of the life we've lived --

  • not whether we've been rich or poor,

  • famous or unknown,

  • healthy or suffering.

  • What determines our quality of life

  • is how we relate to these realities,

  • what kind of meaning we assign them,

  • what kind of attitude we cling to about them,

  • what state of mind we allow them to trigger."

  • Perhaps the central purpose of the third act

  • is to go back and to try, if appropriate,

  • to change our relationship

  • to the past.

  • It turns out that cognitive research shows

  • when we are able to do this,

  • it manifests neurologically --

  • neural pathways are created in the brain.

  • You see, if you have, over time,

  • reacted negatively to past events and people,

  • neural pathways are laid down

  • by chemical and electrical signals that are sent through the brain.

  • And over time, these neural pathways become hardwired,

  • they become the norm --

  • even if it's bad for us

  • because it causes us stress and anxiety.

  • If however,

  • we can go back and alter our relationship,

  • re-vision our relationship

  • to past people and events,

  • neural pathways can change.

  • And if we can maintain

  • the more positive feelings about the past,

  • that becomes the new norm.

  • It's like resetting a thermostat.

  • It's not having experiences

  • that make us wise,

  • it's reflecting on the experiences that we've had

  • that makes us wise --

  • and that helps us become whole,

  • brings wisdom and authenticity.

  • It helps us become what we might have been.

  • Women start off whole, don't we?

  • I mean, as girls, we start off feisty -- "Yeah, who says?"

  • We have agency.

  • We are the subjects of our own lives.

  • But very often,

  • many, if not most of us, when we hit puberty,

  • we start worrying about fitting in and being popular.

  • And we become the subjects and objects of other people's lives.

  • But now, in our third acts,

  • it may be possible

  • for us to circle back to where we started

  • and know it for the first time.

  • And if we can do that,

  • it will not just be for ourselves.

  • Older women

  • are the largest demographic in the world.

  • If we can go back and redefine ourselves

  • and become whole,

  • this will create a cultural shift in the world,

  • and it will give an example to younger generations

  • so that they can reconceive their own lifespan.

  • Thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

There have been many revolutions

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B1 TED metaphor staircase neural life authenticity

【TED】Jane Fonda: Life's third act (Jane Fonda: Life's third act)

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    VoiceTube posted on 2013/04/10
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