Brian Braff noticed a missing concerning the way our society looks at our senior citizens. His interest in the subject of aging started long before joining the Team Management Leadership Program with Landmark Education. Despite the numerous articles, books and documentaries about the older segment of society, none were created from the vantage point of the people who were aging.
Brian graduated with a degree in economics from Berkeley in 1965 and from UC Hastings College of Law in 1969. After practicing criminal law for 20 years, he spent several years as a songwriter, signed to Warner-Chappell Music, but eventually found his way to what he truly loved – photography. He knew that it would take a dedicated team effort to launch a game of this magnitude.
You might ask, “How does any one person alter the attitude of an entire populous?” Brian’s answer was to start by listening. Since everyone drops in on this planet by the same delivery system, experiences life’s journey, seeks to grow and develop the heart’s passions, it would be wise to seek the advice of someone who has traveled that road before. The wisdom and generously-shared life lessons of our elders are rich and valuable resources, available for the asking, in abundant supply. Brian created a Game in the World called Age Looks at Aging, the possibility of empowerment, dignity, full self-expression and communication in the world between people of all ages.
He assembled a team and started mining for the golden wisdom and untapped resources society has long ignored. The idea was to have the participants tell their own stories, sharing their experience of aging with the community directly through photos, writings and interviews. Through training, coaching and conversation, our aging citizens would take this
project on as their own sharing what they were inspired to share in any way they chose.
Brian was surprised at some of the responses he received as he first introduced the project. “Who cares what we think?” was the response of many of the elders. Brian knew immediately what was missing. It was the respect and honor for those who came before us. It was the ingenuity, creativity, and courage of those lives that blazed the trail, set the stage, feathered the nest, and created the foundation for the abundant lives available. The ‘Elders of the Tribe’, as Brian describes, have been put away, pushed aside, and despite the desperate attempts to contribute, for the most part, their voices land on deaf ears.
One might think it unfair, disrespectful and an insult to treat our elders in this fashion. The true insult is to our society. The youth and future generations are the BIG losers. There is a reason why history repeats itself and a contributing factor could be society’s indifference and unwillingness to listen to the voice of experience.
In a pilot project at two assisted living communities in Santa Monica, CA, the results were astounding. Participants whose average age was over 90 took 2400 photos. Photos were displayed at two large and very well attended gallery showings, which featured readings of the participants’ own writings and excerpts of their interviews of each other.
Since then, Age Looks at Aging has grown into a much larger non-profit organization. The outcome of the mission is to completely transform the conversation on aging. The economic and social shifts in our society, family and community, to a great extent have contributed to the loss of this precious resource. The Age Looks at Aging project is returning them to the head of the table, where they belong.
Through the Internet, media, gallery and museum showings, a planned school program, and public appearances the Age Looks at Aging project is reaching out to the world recreating family and community.
Brian shared his vision and opinion: “Our elders need to speak, and we need to listen. I know this because I thought I had something to offer them when I started this project, and then realized it was they who had something to give me.” This insight came quickly as he developed a relationship with 91-year-old Florence Horne, whose courage, wisdom, intelligence and humanity had her go from being “a ship without a rudder” to a powerful force in her community and beyond, speaking not only for herself, but for those “who have no voice.” Florence, the oldest member of the board of directors of Age Looks at Aging, passed away on February 4, 2011, but her light and legacy live on. “Through the lives of people like Florence, I quickly came to see that I needed what they had to offer me, and I am profoundly grateful for this opportunity.
”We could all benefit from the voice of experience and thanks to Brian and his Team, Age Looks at Aging is being produced as a documentary. For more information or to learn how you can further this cause, visit www.AgeLooksAtAging.org.