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In his bestselling The Soul's Code, James Hillman restored passion and meaning to the concept of identity, arguing that each of us is born with an innate character, the "daimon" or "spirit" that calls us to what we are meant to be. Now, in The Force of Character, Hillman brings the idea of character full circle, offering a revolutionary new vision of life's most feared and misunderstood chapter: old age.
"Aging is no accident," Hillman writes. "It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul." We become more characteristic of who we are simply by lasting into later years; the older we become, the more our true natures emerge. Thus the final years have a very important purpose: the fulfillment and confirmation of one's character.
Contrary to the current genetic determinism that sees increased longevity as a wasted aberrance created by civilization, The Force of Character presents an explosive new thesis: The changes of old age, even the debilitating ones, have purposes and values organized by the psyche. Memory for recent events may falter, offering more place for long-term recollections. A heart condition in later life brings an opportunity to remove blockages from constricted relationships, while changes in sleep patterns allow the old to experience the profound elements of nighttime that we usually overlook. As Hillman says, "Aging makes metaphors of biology."
In this empowering and original work, James Hillman resurrects the ancient, widespread, and socially effective idea of the old person as "ancestor," a model for the young, the bearer of a society's cultural memory and traditions. America disregards old people who aren't young-acting and young-looking. We don't realize that "oldness" is an archetypal state of being that can add value and luster to things we treasure, places we revere, and people's character. When we open our imaginations to the idea of the ancestor, aging can free us from convention and transform us into a force of nature, releasing our deepest beliefs for the benefit of society. For all who read it, The Force of Character will be a seminal, life-affirming experience.
Our culture treats aging like a disease to be cured, but in this provocative volume, iconoclastic psychologist Hillman, former director of the Jung Institute, describes aging as the process through which character reveals itself. Extending a theory he introduced in his bestselling The Soul's Code, Hillman describes character as a force that shapes our genetic inheritance and all our traits, including seeming irrelevancies, into a unique whole. Applying ancient thought in a galvanizing way, Hillman draws on Plato and Aristotle to develop the idea that there is a form or a paradigm that makes each of us a recognizable individual through all the changes we go through in our lives. While modern psychology, he contends, strains out seemingly subjective qualities like modesty or bravery or timidity, favoring abstractions like "ego" and generalizing profiles, Hillman argues that such qualities are "the ultimate infrastructure" of a body and a life. He describes how the aging tend to shift from a focus on maintaining the health of the body to one on what is important for character. "In later years," he writes, "feelings of altruism and kindness to strangers play a larger role, as if psychological and cultural factors redirect, even override, genetic inheritance and its aim of propagation." Hillman maintains that the debilities of age allow us to better savor the irreducible complexities of character. He also describes a sweetening and softening of the old, including the adoption of concerns of charity over profit. Many of the views here may strike readers as romantic. Still, as always, Hillman breathes new life into a venerable concept, and in so doing helps us to rediscover the soulful possibilities of aging. Author tour; simultaneous audio.