Our current society has a skewed view of aging. The media feeds us a daily dose of ageism and we as consumers eat it up.
As a consequence, employers have become blind to the aging workers’ value, women and men dye their hair to hide the gray to avoid becoming devalued, and many health care providers shy away from providing the same level of care as to their younger patients. These are but a few of the many examples aging peoples face on a daily basis. Our ancestors honored the aging. So, how did ageism evolve? Would it be wise to return to the ancestral ways of respect for elders?
Robert Butler, MD, a psychiatrist, observed the growing discrimination of the aging population in the late 1960’s. He predicted with unfortunate accuracy that age-ism would likely parallel discrimination against people based on race.
He observed that the social norm of families caring for their elders, an accepted reality in earlier decades of the 20th century and prior eras of human history, was falling away as a result of advances in transportation and family mobility. No longer were families staying on their homesteads. Families moved great distances for employment opportunities as well as improved living conditions. Grandma and Grandpa were often left out of the equation. As these older adults continued to age, housing, food insecurity, and needs for health care gave rise to further isolation and often to poverty. Younger generations looked away and furthered the downward spiral.
As 21st Century people of conscience, let us be mindful of our aging population and respect the millions of steps they have walked to arrive at their current status as an elder. Ask for their guidance and wisdom…they have experienced a lot in their years on Earth and have much to share. Ask how you can help without being demeaning. Many elders are quite capable of caring for themselves and could outdo youth on a hiking or biking expedition.
If you are stepping into your elder years or have already arrived into that status, I suggest you examine your inner life and the ways you may discriminate against yourself. For instance, do you speak up to your doctor and demand the attention you deserve? Do you demand the same level of service in a restaurant as the younger folks who are spending more dollars on alcohol and big desserts? Do you ask for a table where you can actually hear the conversation with your spouse or friends? Can you ask for the help you need with technology without shaming yourself for not being up to date? These are ways we elders contribute to the rapid growth and universal acceptance and normalcy of ageism. Let’s stop it!
Claim your status as an elder! Demand respect and forbearance from younger people and step into your power! There are numerous resources online that might be helpful. Read about what is happening in your community and write to your congressmen and women and demand laws and regulations that do not leave you out.
Blessed be…we are here to stay! Being an elder is a stage of life that no one escapes unless they die before arriving.