Discussion Questions for Mary Pipher: The Art of Aging
1. “We Americans have been taught to resist loss. We don’t think in terms of impermanence. We think in terms of, How do we hold out? How do we keep what we have?” clinical psychologist and bestselling author Mary Pipher reflects. How would you personalize the following phrase? I, _________ , have been taught to _________ loss.
2. Aging is a series of losses. But, if we let it, it can also be a series of gains, such as skills, understanding, and attitudes that accumulate over time to help us cope. What do you think makes the difference between someone who feels expanded by age and someone who feels diminished?’
3. “If we’ve been growing, if we’ve had our lights on, then what happens is, as more is taken from us, the more deeply we appreciate what is in front of us,” Mary reasons. Do you agree with Mary? What practices help you keep “the lights on” in your own life ?
4. Around the world, the number one thing that correlates with happiness, Mary says, is realistic expectations. What are your expectations for a life well-lived? How about a day well-lived? An hour well-lived? What clues do you look for to tell you whether your expectations are right-sized?
5. There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding old women—the subject of Mary’s new book, Women Rowing North. The stereotypes don’t just offend old women. They also create dread in young people about their own aging and limit the ability to make friends across the lifespan. Think of an old woman you know and describe her using three adjectives; does she fit the caricatures?
6. Mary encourages people to build a good day, in whatever increments they need, in whatever ways help move them toward health, friendship, creativity, and beauty, among other things. What are the building blocks of your good day? Did anything Mary say inspire you to structure yours differently?
7. Intergenerational relationships bound by mutual need are one of life’s great gifts, as Kate’s example of her parents’ and son’s nightly talks attests. What have you learned by being a part of or bearing witness to these types of friendships?
8. Caregiving is a role that can shrink one’s world substantially. “And when I’m queen of the world…” Mary starts, “one thing I would change is we would have a culture in which people who were willing to sacrifice so much had more help.” What do you know about the small but meaningful actions required to embody a culture like the one Mary describes? What is one small but meaningful action you can take to make it so?
9. Kate asks Mary, “What are the best gifts you’ve found as you’ve grown older?” Among those Mary names are how many friends she has and how much time she has to spend with them. How would you answer that same question—no matter your age?
10. Kate ends the podcast by speaking to those in the midst of Adulthood, Part 2: “In a world that equates age with liability, it’s time for a reminder that you are a gift.” Who needs this reminder in your life?
Bonus: After listening to this week’s podcast, what part of Kate & Mary’s conversation resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?