According to David Solie, a psychologist specializing in geriatric medicine, elderly people are on “a journey” unrecognized by most others, including their children and professional caregivers.
Unrecognized is the part that breaks my heart. “Many of us look at members of our parents’ generation and see a diminished version of the vibrant people we once knew,” he writes in his book, How to Say It to Seniors. “Surely they aren’t developing anymore, because we can see them declining right before our eyes.”
But that’s not true.
They are developing … just NOT in the direction we expected. “Seniors” work their way daily through what Solie calls “their end-of-life tasks.”
These tasks include “searching for a legacy.” Solie also calls it “life review.” It is essential and involuntary. “Every day, every hour, whether they mention it or not, the seventy-plus age group is reviewing their lives.”
I bring this up because it’s a stage of life unsuspected … until you get there.
Acts of charity help define us as we age. They help define us to ourselves.
Acts of kindness say, “This is who I am, in part. On my best days, this is what I do for others. This is how I’ve tried to help. Much of life is selfish; it has to be, doesn’t it? for survival and comfort. But this is me at my LEAST selfish.”
The Third Act
London-based researcher and legacy expert Richard Radcliffe knows a lot about donors. He’s quizzed more than 25,000 them in focus groups, digging into why they give; he’s been at it for decades.
In 2018, Richard made this frank observation about his own aging process:
“Never ever before have I had any will power – for decades I have been weak willed. I have always enjoyed my food and drink far too much and in the past had a few other typical addictions too. The same applies to my four older brothers. And my late Mum….”
But just before Christmas, Radcliffe discovered a new depth of will power.
“I became fascinated in what made me change, in a second, to give up or reduce my intake of so many loves. After researching the world of older people (again) I discovered it was me being in the ‘Third Act’ (of my life).”
Intrigued now, Radcliffe wanted to know how the Three Acts of life apply to donors.
“The First Act is our first 30 years and perhaps a time when our donor instincts are ignited in school or by a family experience and taking part in sponsored events. There is empathy and energy but lack of commitment.”
The Second Act, Radcliffe discovered:
“… is when we are aged 30-60 – a time of spontaneous empathetic response, but our lives are busy. So there is little time to research the performance and impact of our charities or even to read communications in any detail. Engagement is low only because of lack of time to engage. We are too busy building careers, starting families and later on possibly looking after older family members.”
The Third Act is when we reach our “generosity peak.”
“The Third Act [arrives] usually over the age of 60 – which is when our minds and attitudes change vastly. There are elements which [characterize] the start and development of the Third Act:
To finish life well
Wisdom (in decision making)
Completion (of all the things you have been meaning to do)