Wisdom The Basic Strength of Old

Some amount of despair is natural and necessary for psychological maturity. The inevitable struggle between integrity and despair produces wisdom, the basic strength of old age. Erikson (1982) defined wisdom as "informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself" (p. 61). People with detached concern do not lack concern; rather, they exhibit an active but dispassionate interest. With mature wisdom, they maintain their integrity in spite of declining physical and mental abilities. Wisdom draws from and contributes to the traditional knowledge passed from generation to generation. In old age, people are concerned with ulthnate issues, including nonexistence (Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986).

The antithesis of wisdom and the core pathology of old age is disdain, which Erikson (1982, p. 61) defined as "a reaction to feeling (and seemg others) in an increasing state of bemg finished confused helpless." Disdain is a continuation of re-jectivity, the core pathology of adulthood.

As Erikson himself aged he became less optimistic about old age, and he and his wife began to describe a ninth stage—a period of very old age when physical and mental infirmities rob people of then generative abilities and reduce them to waiting for death. Joan, especially, was mterested in this ninth stage as she watched her husband s health rapidly deteriorate during the last few years of his life. Unfortunately, Joan herself died before she could complete this ninth stage.

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