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Dr. George Valliant devoted his entire professional life to studying the developmental progression of Harvard graduates. This study, known as the Grant Study, is perhaps one of the most comprehensive, longitudinal overviews of human development. Valliant’s findings of how these graduates aged offer us deeper understanding of what it means to be ageless. Valliant identified ten factors of unsuccessful aging which can paradoxically give us a keener insight into living Ageless in the Lord. In this writing I’ll discuss the first five; next time we will look at factors six through ten.
Persons who blame are: judgmental, reproachful, critical, hard to compliment, arrogant, prone to ridicule, sarcastic, and condescending. If blaming prevents agelessness, its opposite, the virtue of gratitude promotes agelessness. Gratitude includes: profound thankfulness, praising God, seeing the sacredness of life, recognizing the giftedness in which you live, appreciating God’s amazing abundance and recognizing the goodness in others.
Those who are unable to listen exhibit the human condition of obtuseness: dull, blunt, cold, numb, unfeeling, apathetic, and avoidant of emotion. The opposite of obtuseness is the virtue of empathy: the ability to walk in another’s shoes, being fully “with” another, understanding abundantly the experiences of another and becoming acutely aware of another’s feelings. Empathy then would be our second key to agelessness.
Those who are obsessed with what is wrong with life experience the internal condition of contention. Contention includes: being defensive, easily upset, chronically unfriendly, contrary, quick to anger, suspicious, confrontive, and provoke controversy. The opposite of contention is the virtue of peace: finding harmony and concord in self and others, living in God’s security and serenity, living where love abides, and treasuring the gift of tranquility.
Those who find it difficult to share themselves with others live in an emotional swirl of insecurity. Insecurity includes: emotional ‘shakiness’, feeling uncertain or unsafe, lacking inner confidence, feeling vulnerable, anxious, and fearful of shame or potential rejection. The opposite of insecurity is the virtue of trust: assured reliance on God, a mature dependence on love, believing and expecting confidence that love will prevail, and consigning one’s life to God’s love.
Those who cannot take on the role of elder become elderly; they live in the shadow of inadequacy: not trusting in one’s self, not being “enough”, clouded thinking, persistent thoughts of personal inferiority, disregard for truth and neglectful of self. The opposite of inadequacy is the virtue of wisdom: discerning spiritual qualities in self and others, possessing an illuminated and solid insight, being spiritually intuitive and recognizing the most prudent, sane, and sensible course of action
Such persons see themselves as the epicenter of all blame; they are opposite of persons infected by Factor 1, in that instead of pushing their blame out upon others they instead press it upon themselves. Consequently they carry around an overload of self-dejection. They can be emotionally flat, dispirited, cheerless and dreary. They tend to be gloomy, melancholic, weighted down and often depressed. The virtue that can turn all this around is joy: expressing pleasure or delight, showing happiness of heart, having positive emotional responses and feeling free-spirited, elated and jubilant, knowing their connection to God.
These folks see themselves as the center of their universe; they see the world through their own idiosyncratic lens; the world revolves around them. Their self-centeredness provokes a sense of self inflation; they can be boastful, egotistical, pretentious, and conceited. They can even give off an edge of narcissism. The virtue that quenches this “spiritual disorder” is humility. This brand of humility is strong, needing no pretense; humble people are free from wearing masks and free from putting on airs… they ARE what they appear to be.
These folks are easily upset, generally see the darkest side of any issue, and can be counted upon to gossip and criticize others. They generally have little vigor, they lack spirit; there is a sense of lifelessness about them. Their life seems to be “on hold”; they can be either avoidant and passive or the opposite, biting and judgmental. The virtue that overrides this lifelessness is inspiration: infused with light and life and motivated by the brilliance of divinity. Such people seem to be in touch with the spiritual reality within them, and they recognize God’s healing power and strength to work wonders in their lives.
There is a “stuckness” about such people. They fear venturing out or even entertaining life change. Rigidity seems to define their stance in life. They reject the views of others especially views that imply the need for change. They are immobile, non-flexible, stiff and stagnant. In the end they are overly strict and even harsh on themselves and others. Adaptability is the virtue they seem to lack. Adaptability allows one to be flexible, to shift one’s views, to conform to spiritual growth, and to adjust to being in this world of change.
Such persons seem to believe that their redemption is in the hands of worldly communities such as the medical community or government. They seem to believe that the world can be made perfect by mechanisms of the world. Such folks seem blind to a reality beyond the physical; their vision stops at what they can see with their eyes, consequently they only live in this world. They tend to be exclusively individualistic and ego-centric and as a group have a great fear of death. The virtue that heals this worldly disorder is transcendence, going beyond the material dimension and into the realm of the divine. Such folks live in a paradigm of transformation, the ability to live in both the material and the spiritual simultaneously. They know implicitly that they are in this world but not of this world.
Sent by Fr. John Converset