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YOUNG OR OLD?

Everyone has young and old in them

How old is old? How do you know someone is "old" when you look at them? The way we define old depends on our culture, the historical time period, and our individual perceptions. In classical Greek culture, for example, aging was deemed a horrible misfortune. Today, we're bombarded with marketing messages that tell us old is "bad." But among the Samoans and many Native American tribes, being a healthy old person is the pinnacle of life.

Even in our culture, we have different formal and informal ways of looking at age. For example:

  • At age 16, people are "old enough" to be licensed drivers. At age 18, you're "old enough" to vote. At 21, you're "old enough" to drink alcohol.
  • Members of the armed forces can retire as early as 37 years old.
  • At age 90, Ludwig Magener won the national swimming championship in six masters' swimming events.
  • In surveys, many people who are 75 years old don't think they belong in the "old" age category.
  • Men can join the senior professional golf tour at age 50. The senior tour in men's tennis is for those age 35 and older.


So, how old is old? Is it based on your chronological age? Until the mid-sixteenth century, few people even knew exactly how old they were because accurate birth records weren't kept. So, people looked at you, looked at what you were able to do, and made a judgment about whether or not you were "old."

Our perceptions are affected by how we feel, our past experiences, opinions, values, and beliefs. We select, organize, and interpret the stimuli we receive through our senses into a meaningful picture of the world around us. Our perceptions of others affect how we relate to them.

Look at the picture of the woman on the optical illusion sheet. What do you see? Let everyone share their opinions about what they see and why they believe what they see is correct.

Some people see a woman of about 20 years; some see a woman around 80 years old. Think of the tip of the old woman's nose as the young woman's chin, or vice versa. You can see the old woman in full profile, while the young woman looks as though she's turned away from you in about one-quarter profile. Although the stimulus is the same for everyone, not everyone perceives the picture in the same way. This optical illusion was first published in Puck magazine in 1915.

We all have a little bit of old and a little bit of young in us. All older people were once children, and all children will one day become old.

What you see when you look at someone may not be what another person sees. To someone who is 10 years old, a 30-year-old looks "old," while that same 30-year-old looks "young" to a 70-year-old.

We have to be aware that our perceptions aren't reality, but our view of reality. Perception is like a window. The window is what we look through to get a glimpse of the world. We can't see the whole world through the window because it's too small. We can only see one small portion of the world from one angle. Also, what we can see from our window is not exactly the same as what someone else can see from their window. The outside world isn't different, but our perceptions (our view through our window) may be different. Sometimes we need to try to look through many different windows, or at least talk to people who are looking through other windows, to see the world in as many ways as possible.

So, the next time you see an "old" person, look again and think about what you're perceiving and why.

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org

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Optical Illusion Sheet

Optical Illusion Sheet
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