Discussing ageism: start with yourself
Our attitude towards old age is a predictor of how happy and healthy we will be in old age. We are mostly unconscious of our own ageist attitudes, which tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. That’s why it’s a good idea to identify our own assumptions about old age and replace them with realistic optimism and an open mind.
Ageism is stereotyping: prejudice and discrimination against people based their age. “It is the last socially sanctioned prejudice.” (Ashton Applewhite.) It affects young as well as old. Ageism is a human rights issue. Ageism (structural, social or personal) can have serious consequences including harassment, abuse, fraud, and mental illness. We experience ageism whenever someone (including ourselves) assumes that we are too old for something—an adventure, a job, a love affair, a change.
We will all be old one day—if we are lucky. So to dismiss old people as irrelevant (or worse) is a form of self-hatred. Positive stereotyping is not necessarily helpful either: not all old people are founts of wisdom. We’re all individuals, doing our best, like you.
Our personal fear or denial of old age has many causes, for example, the following.
- Outside pressure from social, economic and cultural factors (real and huge)
- Our inability to imagine being 10 0r 15 years older than we are (also real and huge)
- Our misunderstanding about how old people feel about their lives (many are enjoying life, even though their lives may not look like fun to you)
- Our assumption that old age is horrible by definition (things have changed in the last 20 years!)
- Our assumption that there’s nothing we can do to change it anyway (research says we certainly can)
Are you ageist? 10 questions“No, of course not!” you say. Hang on—this is important, so why not take a second look, with an open mind?
- What does the word old mean or imply to you? How do you use this word?
- What do these phrases mean: “I don’t feel old” and “You don’t look old”?
- How many more years do you expect to live, based on facts and statistics?
- How do you imagine yourself in old age?
- How do you want to spend those years?
- How do you look at groups of strangers who appear old?
- Do you think of old people (apart from those you know) as “other”, different from yourself?
- What are you looking forward to in the next ten years?
- What can you do right now to make your future old age happier?
- Take any generalisation about old people: “Old people are all…” Would you use this expression if it referred to women or people of colour instead?
(This ageism discussion starter is for a Meet-Up group, Almost Old in Wellington. But you can use it too! See how you go with the 10 questions.)