July 6, 2022

Carl Honoré - Ageism

Carl Honoré is a bestselling author, broadcaster and two-time TED speaker. He is also the voice of the Slow Movement. His latest book, Bolder: How To Age Better And Feel Better About Aging, is a spirited manifesto against ageism. Published in 35 languages, Carl has landed on bestseller lists in many countries. 



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Disclaimer: Unedited AI transcript

Announcer (00:06):

You are connected and you are listening to specifically for seniors, the podcast, for those in the remember when generation today's podcast is available everywhere you listen to podcasts and with video specifically for seniors, YouTube channel. Now here's your host, Dr. Larry,

Larry (00:41):

It's my pleasure to welcome Carl honorary to specifically for seniors. Carl is a best selling author broadcaster, and two time Ted speaker. He is also the voice of the slow movement after working with street children and in Brazil, Carl covered Europe and south America for the economist observer, Miami herd, Houston Chronicle national post in Canada time and other publications. His first book in praise of slowness Chronicles, the global trend toward putting on the breaks in everything from work to food to parenting Carl's second book under pressure explores how to raise and educate children in a fast world and was hailed by time as a quote gospel of the slow parenting movement. Carl's third book, the slow fix explores how to tackle complex problems in every walk of life from health and relationships to business and politics without falling for superficial short term quick fixes his latest book, Boulder, how to age better and feel better about aging is a spirit in manifesto against ageism. We're talking to Kyle from his home in London. Thanks for joining us today, Carl.

Carl (02:16):

Hi, thank you very much. Wonderful to be with you

Larry (02:19):

With all your other interests in the slow movement. How did you become interested in the process of aging?

Carl (02:28):

Well, I've discovered over the years that all of my books start from a personal existential crisis and the one that kicked off Boulder and my interest in aging came during a hockey tournament. I'm a big hockey player and it was up in the north of England. And we were my team. We were in the quarter finals and we were struggling to beat a, a team that we had annihilated the year before. And I could feel the anxiety and indignation cosing through my teammate's veins. And then out of nowhere, I scored a highlight real goal, right. The kind of goal that I will be remembering on my deathbed <laugh>. And so I came off, you know, we won the quarters, we were in the semis, I was floating on air. And then one of the tournament, organizers came up to me and said, Carla, I've been looking at player profiles.

Carl (03:13):

And it turns out you're the oldest player here. And I, I mean, I knew I was one of the oldest, right. I'm not diluted, but, but to be suddenly to be the oldest just rocked me. Right. I felt it right down to the souls of my feet shaken. And I suddenly felt out of place. I, I thought, you know, all these questions began crowding in. I thought, well, are people laughing at me? Right. Do I look out of place here? Should I take up a more age appropriate pastime, like bingo, maybe. And now I've got nothing against bingo, but, but there was something I, I love hockey, right. And there was something about suddenly my chronological age took on this terrible power to limit and define me. And I just thought this doesn't feel right. Why, you know, I'm, I'm having fun. I'm playing well, why should I feel bad about the numbers in my birth certificate?

Carl (04:00):

And I came away from that tournament, realizing that there was something that I needed to unpack and unpick here to understand my own horror at the idea of aging. And of course that then plugs into the bigger picture because we live in a culture that is marinated in the cult of youth. So all these things, I think that I had been pushing away from my own consciousness, my own awareness of, I mean, I guess at that point I was late forties, nearly 50. I, I just wasn't even thinking about, I didn't want to think about it because to me, I was a card carrying member of the cult of youth. Right. I just thought older was worse. Right. So I didn't want to contemplate being older and suddenly all of these things came together and I thought, whoa, I need to, I need to confront this and make sense of it.

Larry (04:44):

You realize you're talking to someone who's 86

Carl (04:47):

<Laugh> yeah, that's right.

Larry (04:49):


Carl (04:50):

It's way better than I do. Right.

Larry (04:52):

<Laugh> you know at 48 I just can't imagine beginning to think about old age.

Carl (05:01):

Well, you know, if you, I bet if you were able to spool back in time to your 50 year old self, I bet you were probably called, you were probably grappling with some of these questions, maybe not in the same way, but I think memory has a way of rubbing the slate clean about our anxieties at the time. I, I mean, I, I only know that I was worried about turning 30 because I came across a diary that I was keeping at the time recently. I remember when I was writing Boulder, which I was already then around 50 I, my, the story I was telling myself at that moment was that this was a new worry of mine. This was a fresh anxiety. I'd never worried or even thought about getting older. And then there, I was my earlier self, 20 years younger, freaking out about the end of my twenties. So I, I think, you know, who knows maybe, maybe if you were able to travel back in time, you might find a different Larry waiting for you at the other end. <Laugh>

Larry (05:53):

You make good possibility? What is ageism in your mind?

Carl (06:01):

Well, the, I guess the technical definition is a simple one. It's prejudice and discrimination based on people's chronological age, but of course it affects everyone. I talked about the cult of youth, but ageism affects all of us at all ages, right? Because there are stereotypes that attached to being a teenager, you know, there, people can be written off in their early twenties for not being experienced enough or not having enough, you know, miles on the clock or so, so people can be pushed into a box and defined by their age at any stage of life. My argument is, and I, it seems that the evidence in my view backs this up is that ageism falls more heavily on those of us in later life, because the, the box of stereotypes and prejudices and views that we have of being a certain age are far more toxic and pejorative and downbeat for later ages than they are for being in your twenties.

Larry (06:59):

How, how did you select the age of 50 as the cutoff point when you really started thinking about aging?

Carl (07:10):

I don't, I didn't consciously choose that. It just, for me personally, it just happened. The spark was that hockey tournament, I guess I was probably nearly 49 at that stage, talking to you now, I think back and I don't, I think I probably wasn't thinking about my 50th birthday. I, I mean, I guess looking at the great arc of a human life, it seems that we package things up in decades. So that 20, 30, 40, 50, all of those years that ended a zero take on an extra resonance. So, you know, I, I definitely remember thinking as I was 39 and late thirties that, you know, 40 was going to be a big milestone. Right. And not, not in a good way. Cause I, I remember looking back now realizing that in my twenties, I felt under, and I think a lot of 20 somethings have this experience of thinking, I've gotta rush.

Carl (08:04):

I've gotta get my career together. I need to, because at 30, you know, it's all downhill from 30 and then you get to 30 and you realize actually, you know what, it's not, I'm, I'm, I'm feeling pretty darn good, but then you think, well, 40, 40 it's game over. Yeah. Then you hit 40 and you think actually I'm, I'm doing even better than I was at 30, in many ways. And I think of that, you keep pushing it back. Ideally right. If you, with the right spirit, the right frame of mind and a, and a bit of luck, you can carry on having that same experience at each milestone decade, ending birthday, I think where you get there. And think nine years ago, I was thinking it was game over at this day as you reach it and think actually, you know what, I've just climbed up a little higher on the mountain. The view is that much more enriching from up here.

Larry (08:47):

I was pretty good up until about my sixties

Carl (08:51):

And what happened then

Larry (08:53):

At, at 60, I started thinking I, I retired from being a dentist, but, and then I was not bad at 70. The one that hit me was 80.

Carl (09:07):

In what sense to hit you? Just emotionally you began to think this is, well,

Larry (09:11):

This could be the last transition into a new decade.

Carl (09:16):


Larry (09:18):


Carl (09:19):

Well, I think if you look at the demographics and the average lifespans at the moment, that's not an unreasonable thing to think, but I suppose the question is, what do you do with that? Do you think, okay, I'm in what could well be the final chapter? You know, is that gonna bum me out or, or do I think, you know, I'm gonna take all the stuff I've built up and all the experience I'm bringing to the party from those first seven decades, and I'm gonna smash it and make the most of that, that, that 80, and maybe who knows, maybe I will get to 90. Right. <laugh> or even, even later I suppose, would be, would be my way of trying to approach it.

Larry (09:52):

Yeah. And decide to start doing podcasts at 85. <Laugh> where,

Carl (09:56):

Where you go. Exactly.

Larry (09:58):

It's sort of a weird experience. Yeah. Let's talk about your latest Ted talk. The one that really got through to me, why should we embrace aging as an adventure?

Carl (10:11):

Well, if we don't, right. So let's start with, from the negative side of that equation, we know that aging or ageism operates like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if you have a, a grim bleak downbeat view of aging, if you think aging is all downhill from whatever, 30, 35 or 40, then there's a good chance. It will be right. <Laugh>. So you're going to increase your chances by having that, by buying into the cult of youth, by denigrating aging and glorifying youth, you increase your chances of suffering from physical and mental decline, falling into dementia, or even dying younger. There there's some pretty solid research that suggests that if you have a poisonous, you know, dark, dim view of aging, you're more likely to die up to seven and a half years younger. Right. Which is a lot of years, a lot of life sacrificed on the alter of a point of view, right.

Carl (11:09):

Which actually is not born up by the facts. So that's, I think one compelling argument for embracing aging with an upbeat spirit, because it will help you age better because buying into ageism is the ultimate act of self-harm. So that's one part of the equation. The other is that there are so many things, of course, that stay the same as we get older, some things get worse, mainly physical things, but a lot of things actually get better. Right. You know, whether it's the fact that we feel, you know, I mean, I can go into the list if you like. I mean, pluck out one, right? The the famous U-shaped happiness curve, that human beings follow. We have a knee jerk idea about aging that you just think of the words we use to describe older people, right? Sort of grumpy, cranky, crotchety, sad, miserable.

Carl (11:57):

These, you know, UN unappetizing depressing words. When in fact human beings follow what's called U-shaped happiness curve. So we start really high up in childhood. We fall steadily till we bottom out in middle age, which is where I am. Then we bounce back up again to where you are. And if you look around the world in most socioeconomic levels, in most cultures, you'll find that the people who report the highest levels of life satisfaction, happiness are the over 50 fives, right? So that runs completely counter to the dominant narrative, which is that you better enjoy those first three or four decades, cuz that's when they're, you're gonna beat your best and your happiest, ah, it just simply is not true. Right? So that's something to look forward to when you contemplate the decades in the second half of, of life, right? That's just one example of things that get better and, and I'll let me pluck out why I think, I mean, there's a lot of reasons people put forward for this happiness curve to, to occur the way it does.

Carl (12:54):

One, one theory is evolutionary biologists argue that back in, you know, early man gathered around the campfire, living on the Savannah, it was much more useful for our ancient ancestors to have upbeat grandparents, right? Rather than grandparents who were sitting by the campfire moaning about how life was way better three years ago, right. <Laugh> in their youth. And, and, and so you're more likely that the tribe is more likely to survive with grandparents of a sunny disposition who are more likely to see the upside. So that explains part of it. They've also found the same U-shape happiness curve in Bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans, which suggests that it's hardwired into our primate genes, right? It's a, it's a payoff. That's there for all. If not, you know, most of us. And I think one reason that we feel more happy, I guess, I mean a life satisfaction in later life is that we are more at ease with ourselves.

Carl (13:53):

We're more comfortable in our own skin. There's a great quote. Do you remember the old agony ant and Landers, she, she once said at 20 people worry about what people think of them. You know, at, at 40 we stop worrying about what people think of us at 60. We realize they were never thinking of us at all. Yeah. <Laugh> which I think what, what that kind of gets at is that that sort of lightness or freedom that comes upon us in later life, where we just stop feeling compelled to tiptoe around other people's expectations. We don't feel we have to bend our lives and our desires and our dreams to meet other people's expectations. We, we are solid and confident in our own skin. We have our feet planted on the ground and we're able to forge our own path at that moment. And that's something you hear again, across cultures from people almost as a glorious surprise, people get into that 40 something 50. And they realize actually, you know what? I feel so much lighter on my feet. Right? So much more able to define, pinpoint, and then embrace what the right future is gonna be for me. So I, you know, there, there are, there's one very luminous example of why we ought to embrace aging as as a, as an adventure, because it can be

Larry (15:08):

What, what stereotypes have you run into with aging?

Carl (15:15):

Oh, goodness me. Where do you wanna start? I, I mean, one of the most famous ones is that older people, you know what, we, we all know the expression. You can't teach an old dog new tricks, right. It, it's not even true of dogs. <Laugh> and it's certainly not true of human beings. We can carry on learning all the way through our lives. Right. <laugh> and, and you're a perfect example. You, you took a podcasting in your mid eighties, right. You probably learned it from YouTube tutorials on your own more or less I'm guessing. Yeah,

Larry (15:43):


Carl (15:44):

Yeah. You know, so learning, which is a, is at the core of a life well lived, right. Is, is exposing yourself to novelty, finding new things, being hungry and curious, and, and thirsty for new experiences. That's at the heart of a life, well lived, whatever your age you are. But we, you know, we don't fall off a learning cliff at any point in our lives. We can carry on doing it. So that, that was that's one of the first ones, what we mentioned earlier, the kind of sad crushy thing. So older people are sad, older people can't learn what else? I mean, older people lack creativity, right? We're, you know, we're always being told that creativity belongs to the young FY, right. Total

Larry (16:26):

Months. Definitely.

Carl (16:27):

I mean, people can be immensely creative at any age. And in fact, some forms of creativity rely on two things that only aging can confer time and experience, which is why, if you look back through history, you find innumerable examples of people hitting it out of the creative part in later life from Michael Angelo to Matis or Beethoven Bach Maya Angelo, the, the, the American writer summed it up perfectly when she said you can't use up your creativity. The more you use, the more you have. Right. And I think anyone who's found themselves getting past 40 realizes that we realize that we've, we bring this onboard database of experience of patterns, of rich textured, understanding of how the world fits together. And we can apply that to difficult problems to come up with wildly creative solutions. So again, that runs profoundly and deeply against the dominant narrative, which is that creativity belongs to the young folk. Right. <laugh>

Larry (17:31):

For sure. So what can we do about the ages attitudes we face?

Carl (17:39):

Well, I, I think there are lots of things that we need to do collectively, right? There are things we can tackle in the workplace laws, legislation, and all that stuff, but let's focus more on the personal. I feel like social media can be a very powerful ally in the battle against ageism and to redefine aging for the 21st century. Why is that? If you look at Instagram, say every day, millions of people around the world are uploading photos and videos that show their version of being 40 something, 50, 60, 70, 80 something, a hundred something. And guess what those versions look very different from the dominant cult of youth narrative, which is that it's all downhill from whatever 30, 40, wherever you wanna draw the line, because they're showing that people, you know, with the right attitude and a bit of luck, they can, people can do anything at any age, right?

Carl (18:35):

People are, I don't know, launching businesses in their fifties, learning languages in their sixties, learning how to podcast in their eighties, skydiving at, at as centenarians. And, and it's important to have these, this, because social media now is the wallpaper of our lives, right? It's the VI it's. These are the images we see. And the more we see people defying and thumbing their nose at ages, stereotypes, and defining aging on their own terms and taking life by the Scruff of the neck, the easier it becomes for the rest of us to do the same. You know, you can't be what you can't see. And so I think social media is a good place for anyone of any age, just to be out there changing the conversation. So if you're whatever age you are, I would recommend two things on social media follow or, or, or, or look at content, put out PE by older people that you admire, right?

Carl (19:26):

Who, who lift your spirit and make you think, yeah, I might be able to do that 10 years from now or 25 years or 30 years. So that would be one thing I'd recommend the other is to shout from the rooftops, <laugh> your own triumphs and your, you know, share your own version of, of knocking 50 something, 80 something outta the park, put, put, put that little video or that real, or story up there and just share it around and become part of that tsunami of, of imagery and sounds that will tell us a different story, because this is all about telling stories and the story we've all inherited. Is it aging socks, right? But if we tell a different story and we tell it with charm and wit and quirk, we can reverse that. So that people start to feel very differently about how they age and can start to contemplate aging in a different light.

Carl (20:11):

So that would be one, one suggestion. If I can make a second one, it, it has to do with the language we use. Now, the whole ageist narrative is woven into our vernacular. Think of all those phrases that trip off the tongue senior moment, right? Over the hill finished at 40 wrong side of 50 feeling my age, showing my age young at heart, all these phrases that often we utter them a little tongue and cheek self deprecation, a bit of fun in the moment, but, but every one of those phrases, every time it falls into the public arena, what it's doing is it's reinforcing the stereotype that aging is bad. <Laugh> right. And so I, I, I'm always wary of putting on a, you know, language, place, hat and policing, how people speak. But I just think it'll be useful in the same way as we've removed certain expressions and terms of phrase to do with race or sexuality or gender and so on, because we just think that they send the wrong message.

Carl (21:09):

I think we can do the same with aging. So, you know, don't use phrases like senior moment. <Laugh> if you forget your keys, you know, maybe you reinvent call it a goldfish moment. Right. Cause gold fishes have short term memory, many people who would you classify? Seniors have very good memories. Right. I used to forget my keys all the time when I was 17. Right. I didn't call it a senior moment. Right. But now, you know, someone loses at 15 and think, oh, no next step to Alzheimer's. Right. No, it's almost certainly not. That is just a memory fail, which we can all have at any age. So reframing with language, I think is also a really important part of this equation.

Larry (21:50):

We've been talking about aging in relation to your book, Boulder making the most of our longer lives. Can you tell me a little bit about the book?

Carl (22:03):

Sure. It's how would I describe it? I suppose for me it was, it was a kind of like all my books, I suppose, which start with the personal existential crisis. It's a kind of therapy. So my books, I'm a journalist by trade. So I'm curious, I'm skeptical. I want to see the facts and I want to go out and see people. I want to experience things. So it's, it's really a, almost like I'm taking the reader around the world to say, look, let's go out there and see what the truth is about aging. Is there a different and better story to tell about it? So I guess the, the book is then structured, looking at different aspects of aging, whether it's you know, physical health, mental health, the workplace image, all sorts of things. And I just kind of like VI taking, you know, through Dante, through how it's kind of like taking, taking the reader along to on my own journey to, to see if I can come out the other end, feeling better about aging and, and spoiler alert <laugh> I did. Right.

Larry (23:04):

Did you?

Carl (23:05):

Oh, absolutely. I wish, you know, what's funny. I was just thinking this the other day. I wish that I had written this book 20 years ago because I could have saved myself 20 years of needless dread fear, shame and guilt about growing older <laugh>. But of course the irony is I could never have written this book 20 years ago cuz I didn't have the experience to write it. So I guess what I'm trying to say is I wish someone else had written this book 20 years ago so I could have read it <laugh> and it's interesting. I noticed that when people, cuz people write to me all the time, of course who've read the book and are doing stuff with it or, and which for any author is, is, is a big part of the, the whole joy, right? That's what keeps you going a lot of the time during those long nights of the soul, when you're trying to work out how to fashion the perfect paragraph or finish a chapter to hear from people all the time saying this is, this has been transformative for me, this has changed my life.

Carl (23:56):

And it happens. It happens all the time. And it's interesting. I cuz I, I, I hear from people of all ages, right? So I, I hear from a lot of people coming back to the idea of those milestone birthdays. So many people, I would say I haven't done a formal study yet, but I, so many people are reading Boulder around 29, 39, 49, 59. Just like, they're just about to hit that big zero next zero birthday. And they, and they just need somebody to put, you know, put a hand on their shoulder and say it's gonna be okay. Right. It's it's it's not only gonna be okay. It it's got a good chance of being pretty wonderful. Right. So it's interesting that so many people are arriving at the book at that special junction. Right. That, that perfect storm, if you like in people's lives, that builds up in that year nine before the end of a decade.

Larry (24:47):

Oh yeah. Can you briefly talk about your other books? The slow movement?

Carl (24:57):

Sure. Well the slow movement is very simple. It's about it's I'm not an extremist of slowness, right? It it's, I love speed faster is often better.

Larry (25:07):

So tell me about the, tell me about the speeding tickets you got while researching the book.

Carl (25:13):

Well, that, that, that's a reminder of how I am a naturally fast person. When I was researching my first book in praise of slowness, I was driving in Italy and I got a speeding ticket, right. While I'm investing. And the worst part was I was on my way to a dinner hosted by a group called slow food. So it was just ridiculous and, and it, and it was in Italy as well. So if you've ever driven in Italy, you know how fast I was going to get a speeding ticket. So yeah, that was that was another little mini wake up call let's say, and I haven't had a speeding ticket since. So it's obviously obviously worked all of this research and writing about slowing down. But yeah. So, so the, the books are all about how you slow down in a fast world.

Carl (25:55):

It's not about doing everything slowly. It's about doing things at the right speed. So sometimes you've gotta be fast, but other times slow, it's kind of a state of mind. It's about being present in the moment and doing one thing at a time. If you remember the days when we used to do that ultimately slow with the capital S is about doing everything, not as fast as possible, but as well as possible, right? And, and once you get that chip and slaughter it into your brain, it will just revolutionize everything you do. So there are now movements for slow in every walk of life from slow food, slow sex, slow travel, slow fashion, slow management, slow technology, slow, AR you, you name it, right. People are coming to the party with the slow lens and saying, how can I do this better and enjoy it more by slowing down to the right speed.

Larry (26:44):

Interesting. I think the most important question in my mind of our discussion today, how do you change the perspective of those of us who are at the age? I guess that Satra was referring to in his book S Fey, the chips are down, the bets have been placed. How do we change people in my generations perspective on living? Hmm. When I talk to some of my friends all they worry about is dying is being sick being, how do we change that perspective? Mm. So, so that we can enjoy these years.

Carl (27:39):

Yeah. Well, I think, well, I mentioned earlier the finding role models, right? Finding people who are your age, in that case who are doing things that you maybe wouldn't contemplate or that are hopeful and upbeat and, and, and, and, and exciting. So just to sort of see other people doing, and I think is, is one way, but that's this an end there, right? I think you have to, you have to experience a different way of being in the world. So I would just recommend anyone who feels stuck, right. Just stuck in that mode. You've described to say to themselves, I don't need to flip this 180 degrees next week. Right. This is baby steps. So just next week, pick one activity, right. That would fit into the more upbeat view. Something that you maybe used to love doing 10 years ago or five years ago, but stop doing, and you're not, you can't quite remember why you stalk, right.

Carl (28:32):

Something like that or something that a friend does or a neighbor does. And you've occasionally caught yourself thinking that kind of looks like fun, but you've not taken the next step. So identify some activity like that and just put it in your calendar once for next week and, and, and see how you feel afterwards. Right? talk to a friend afterwards about how you felt. So you're kind of solidifying the learning. You're sharing it. You're kind of almost making yourself accountable. Cause if you come outta that experience say that was actually kind of fun or they enjoyed that. And you say that to someone else they're then there to say, the next time you you're sitting in your chair saying, oh man, life's, you know, awful sucks. I can only think about, they'll say, well, hang on last week you came out of whatever it was, pickle ball or ceramics or whatever it was, or, or salsa class. And you had a big smile on your face and you enjoyed it. So tell someone in your close circle about that experience has been good and have them there as your wingman. If you like, you know, to keep you, keep you in, in, in, on track. The next time you start to sync back into the desk bond,

Larry (29:35):

Carlos' discussion has been amazing. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. I really appreciate it. And thank you on behalf of everyone listening. Good luck with the books. Good luck with your next adventure into a decade. It's been great. Thank you.

Carl (29:59):

Thank you very much, Larry. I've enjoyed it from start to finish. I look forward. Maybe just speaking again, sometime

Larry (30:06):

Anytime you wish open invitation. If you write a new book, let us know

Carl (30:12):

You'll be on the list.

Larry (30:14):

Thanks again.

Carl (30:16):

Thank you so much.

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