Even though our project plans are well thought out in terms of purpose, goals and actions, World Café Europe has discovered that it is important for us to keep our minds open to emerging possibilities. Even with the best of planning, these unique opportunities are not always evident at the onstart of a project. The creation of a video documentation of the six Thematic Cafés of the European Voices for Active Ageing project was part of our initial project plan. However, another video series emerged as well – one to listen to about what individual older adults think about active ageing. 70 interviews later, we recognize that these videos were an important addition to our efforts. They provide a convincing visual contribution about the untapped wisdom of older adults – not only about active ageing – but potentially about any issue which matters to their lives and the communities in which they live.
What does active ageing mean to you?
A simple, but powerful question. Not one that is easy for everyone to answer. It is a question which requires reflection from all of us. Our life experience enables us to ponder this question. Out of this relfection emerges a deeply personal understanding of active ageing. Ultimately this personal understanding affects the decisions which we make throughout our lives – not only after retirement at age 65+ . As José Ramón (Spain) noted „We should be conscious about active ageing throughout our lives. We start to age the moment we are born!“
Photo (c)Alex Rumford
The project European Voices for Active Ageing was designed to give adults aged 50+ a voice. Each of the 6 dialogues created a platform for dialogues which were designed by and for older adults in order to explore topics key to fostering active ageing. The results and recommendations from these dialogues reflect the wisdom and life experience which each individual brought with them to the dialogue. So we thought: why not capture the individual insights as well as the collective wisdom? That is when the idea for the ‚waves‘ of active ageing videos with participants of the Thematic Cafés emerged.
These one-on-one interviews provided a rich resource of qualititative information. The comments which were made by the interviewees naturally reflected the topic of the Thematic Café in which they had participated. However looking at the comments as a whole, the „wisdom + experience from a long life“ as Luis, one of the Spanish interviewees stated, became very clear.
EVAA’s Oldest Participant at age 95 Photo (c) Lukas Zentel
To foster active ageing, society must recognize that „…citizens over 65, 70, 75…have been working many years and can contribute a lot to society“ Judith (Spain) advocated. She continued by saying that (on a personal level) active ageing is „To develop your vitality regardless of the situation. …(and by doing so)….A whole new window of opportunity begins to open up.“ Dieter (Germany) deepens this positive view of ageing by recognizing life after the end of a work career as „…the beginning of a phase of life which one can design oneself“. Obviously active ageing is for those individuals who were interviewed not an end but an on-going development. Carol (UK) put this thought very simply „I don’t want to give up.“ But society’s stereotypes about adults aged 50+ makes realization of these views a continual challenge.
A Celebration of Age Photo (c) Alex Rumford
The interviewees all agreed that active ageing is a journey which has both a personal and social component. It offers individuals the opportunity „to continue to develop themselves, no matter what age.“ explained Jacques (Belgium). Other interviewees echoed this natural sense of continuum of personal development. But the scope of active ageing is much more than just a personal quest. To be active, to be in good shape“ are certainly key factors but „to feel useful for society“ is also an integral part of active ageing according to Oldrich (Czech Republic). Conni (Spain) agreed „(Active Ageing) is about …“maintaining a level of participation and activity (throughout life)“.
Active Ageing also brings with it the possibility of „…doing something else for yourself and for others“ stated Ulrike (Germany) as she decribed her commitment to civic engagement in society. Many interviewees also agreed with Ludmilla’s (Czech Republic) sense of active ageing as a way to „apply my experience that I have gained during my personal and professional life.“
Importantly, work does not stop at retirement for the interviewees. Active ageing is to continue „work, collaboration, (which also comes with) obligation, not entitlement.“ affirmed Máximo (Spain). An understanding of the productive life of adults aged 50 and older need to shift in society. Active agers like Janet (US) expect to have „meaningful work either paid or unpaid until my last breath.“
Photo (c) Sandra Then
As these interviews demonstrate, there is no lack of understanding among adults aged 50 – 100+ about the issues which foster active ageing. The ever-active octogenarian Esther (UK) gracefully reiterated this in her interview when she stated that these adults need not to be talked at – but given a voice – and by doing so, listened to for their know-how and wisdom which is available to transform society.
As Sylvie (France) enthusiastically declared: „Let us profit from these new activities and new areas for activity!“ However to realize this, a conscious effort to create a new culture of conversation with adults aged 50+ is required. All the members of the generations over 50 have a wealth of life experience and wisdom to tackle the demographic challenges facing Europe. By actively participating in the discussions about active ageing, their invaluable contribution will be voiced and heard. When this culture of conversation is embraced by society, it will provide a solid and stakeholder-driven foundation for an innovative and sustainable transformation process for an increasingly ageing Europe.
Want to hear more voices? Listen to the six waves of interviews about active ageing by adults all over Europe: