The Challenge of Change

The weekend arrives.  After breakfast I settle into my big chair, hot coffee at hand, to address my favourite task.  The international weekend newspaper booklet is my link to the far-flung world.  It’s not noted for detailed news, but for quick and objective summaries of activities which occur around the globe.  Skimming through, my attention is caught and held by the report of a long-standing, scientific study that has been under way for years.  

This must be a joke, I think.  Such a research project is impossible.  What reliable organization would sponsor the idea, and where would they get the people to volunteer?   

Thoroughly hooked, I read on, the rest of the paper forgotten.  To my surprise, it is indeed scientists from a well-known, respected university who proposed and started this research project, many years ago. A large group of people approaching retirement age were recruited to commit to the project.  Their duties were few.  The first was to make a list of things they most want in their lives, ranking them in importance.  The second was to agree to be interviewed about once every ten years.  At each interview their list could be reviewed, items deleted if desired, or changed in ranking position.  Of particular interest is the top ten items.

Exactly what the scientists are searching for is not stated in the article.  Is this an example of “pure science” where the scientists are simply experimenting to see what answers result, or do they have a definite goal in mind?  

It seems that they are trying to see how our view of life changes as we age.  Do our basic values vary with the years, or is it what we need and cherish that filters out of the many, and moves our most-needed into the “top ten”?  If so, what are these top ten, individual or universal?  Are they both?  In the diversity of top-ten desires, there are two that are found so often that they are regarded as universal. 

Dropping back to the group of recruits, at the age of sixty-five the article indicates that in their top-ten desires were two things: a desirable financial situation, and good health.  Given that, one deduces they felt “the world was their oyster”, and anything they wished to do, they could.  Jumping forward twenty years, the record shows a lot of changes in their general list, including the top-ten items.  Now, as when they made their first list, the top-ten desires vary.  The striking discovery is the two that are universal to this eighty-five-year-old group.  They now give high rankings for a “close and loving relationship with family and friends”, and for a “familiar and reliable community situation.”

This provocative information traps me with its possibilities.  It is annoying and tantalizing in the lack of verification.  Fact or fiction, it does raise personal challenges.  I muse: What changes have I gone through in the last twenty years of my life?  Too many to count, of course.  If I had been a member of that chosen group twenty years ago, what do I think my “top ten” would have been?  What, indeed, are they today?  An interesting and challenging exercise it would be for all “aged” folk to undertake that bit of introspection.  It could prove beneficial.

Let’s suppose I know that close and loving relationships with family and friends are certainly dear to my heart, as is to operate happily in the community in which I live.  What then?

Life has a habit of hitting things back into my court!  There seems no escape: the answer is up to me.  I must clarify once again what kind of relationship it is that I so desire, and what my community needs from me. Given that both of these situations are vital to the enjoyment and appreciation of my final years, it would be prudent for me to consider carefully.  At the very least it will be interesting.

If you had been a member of that chosen group twenty years ago, what do you think your top ten (or two or three) priorities would have been?  What would they be today?


Filed under This & That

4 Responses to The Challenge of Change

  1. Fascinating study. Messy parameters. How can the researcher(s) drop in on a person once a decade and find the subject in a state of mind sufficiently similar to that on the previous visit to make meaningful comparisons? What about the crying needs that remain, but to the thorny pain of which I have become inured? What about the burning desire for success in a project or in a personal relationship that failed, the scars from which I will always carry and for which some irrational hope or enduring faith keeps a pilot flame lit? Does the researcher supply the same list of choices decade after decade so that the subject is reshuffling the deck? What sort of novel answers may be discounted by a researcher who has not lived long enough or faithfully enough or broadly enough to understand that Marjorie rightly desires the improbable, the undiscovered, the remarkable? At one time, I was tasked with writing questionnaires and I know a little about how difficult it is to narrow the gate of useful responses without strangling the responder. Test-takers have a way of sizing up the researcher and spitting out the answer s/he deserves, in the low opinion deservedly held by the subject restrained under questioning. Deservedly! Yet, I am a sucker for the telephone surveyors (someone is interested in my opinion? how refreshing) and enjoy challenging the rationality of their questions while they try to squeeze my answers into their coding formats. “Would you say you are closer to this or to that end of the range of desire?” Who drew the scale? Anyone I know or could talk to? Hmmm.

    When I discovered how music affects ears and brains my research led me to the website of a Danish doctor, Lars Heslet, who had brought music programs into hospitals, found that they usually enhanced well-being and recovery, and was exporting those programs (Musica Humana to hospitals all over the world. Then, I learned that Danish hospitals treat elders the way we treat young people: with the belief that improvement and recovery is possible every single day of a person’s life and that every gain is to be worked at and supported assiduously with expectant enthusiasm. If those blessings are missing from your environment, I hope it will not be “a familiar and reliable community” that surrounds you but one that can change and grow for the benefit of you and your companions.

    • Marjorie

      Laurna: It is about twenty four hours since I received your comment. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It is a well written and excellent summary of your problems in finding any usefulness in the scientific summary mentioned in that blog. My knowledge about this “scientific research project” is pretty skimpy. It is just one small paragraph in an acknowledged excellent newspaper. Because of this I tread warily when I describe my reaction. The article does raise far more questions than it answers, and in itself does not give enough details to be useful. For me, the value came from attempting to apply the ideas to my personal life. This I outlined in the last four paragraphs of “The Challenge of Change”. Readers’ responses will be very valuable to me. To have the privilege of sharing the views of fellow travellers on the road of life, about what is important on the living of that life, is a great gift indeed.

  2. Jim taylor

    Marjorie, as I read your posting, I suspect that the lists reflect what people can take for granted, or not take for granted, at varying ages. At 65, they’re just entering into retirement. They have no experience yet of how well they can live on their pensions or savings — so financial things rank high. By 85, they may realize that they’re well off or livng in poverty, but either way, nothing is going to change the reality, so they no longer fret about money. Ditto for health — at 65 they’re still looking forward to being active; by 85 they can’t be as active at golf or hockey or whatever, so they become more concerned about the community within which they live. As for me, personally, at 65 I would certainly have put financial issues high, but my second element would have been having a market for my skills and talents. Now, at 75, I’m realizing that I won’t have good health forever. I’m also more concerned about friendships than about fame. At 85…. who knows? I’ll have to wait and see.
    Best regards, Jim Taylor

    • Marjorie

      Jim – To my surprise, life seems to continue to change yet also gets more settled. I have used the phrase before, but cannot find a better one, it is similiar to a distilling process. What is left is strong and potent but the anxiety far less. Perhaps acceptance of reality makes one see things through a different lens. The non-negotionable desires for many folk seem to be similiar to mine: strong personal relationships and a good community situation. I work on the premise that at 91 my changes are behind me — and know that time will test that. Nice to get your 75-year-old position. Regards to a fellow traveller of the path.