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Debunk the myth of independence and celebrate interdependence and aging gracefully instead.

People at all ages need help. The more we promote "independence," the more old people will feel ashamed of accepting the help they need.

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson

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"My parents are so stubborn. They refuse to accept any help!" Such is the lament of many Baby Boomers. Yet Boomers will be just as stubborn when they get old and needy, as will subsequent generations, until we make a cultural shift toward acknowledging and even celebrating our true interdependence. Many falls happen because old people live alone "in order to be independent" or choose to walk without a cane, walker, or helper "in order to be independent," etc. A successful fall prevention program should address the psychological and cultural issues related to independence and interdependence via education for people of all ages.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Why do we insist that "independence" is a sign of strength? Why do so many seniors feel ashamed of needing help?

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm vice president for innovation at ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. I've written seven books, mostly about women and sports, and I've taken care of both parents in their old age.


Join the conversation:

Photo of James Lytle

I agree, this cultural, pervasively human mindset has the greatest impact. I wonder how products and services could help interdependence thinking from an earlier age.

Photo of Mariah Burton Nelson

Good question, James. Consider the classic "Hero's Journey," popularized by Joseph Campbell. A lone figure, usually male, goes on an adventure, encounters challenges, overcomes those challenges,and returns home victorious. There is no teamwork, no support group, no community, and no assistance involved. That's not how life works, yet that model has been praised and accepted, largely without question --except, implicitly, by the "it takes a village" message. So yes, let's start young, making clear to children (through culture, games, stories, education) that all of us are dependent on others for food, housing, friendship, healthcare, assistance when all of us are inevitably at times sick or disabled, etc. Julia Montes Alonso Bettina Fliegel Anne-Laure Fayard 

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