Carol was a 62-year-old employee who had been with a major corporation for 20 years. New management came into the company, and she started receiving veiled threats and intimidation. The pressure was on for her to lift her game and doing things “the new way”. Carol had a great deal of confidence in her abilities, however, in time it was obvious that the management was pushing her to retire. Both her physical and emotional health suffered, and she decided it was not longer worth staying; she retired.
The story of Carol is not at all unusual. Carol was experiencing ageism which means discriminating or stereotyping based on age. While this can apply to any age, it is a big problem with older individuals. Ageism doesn’t just appear in the workplace; it is prevalent in many areas of life and how the young view the aging population. The problem is not just with how others see the older generation but it is also an issue within seniors themselves.
We live in an age that glorifies the young. Narcissism is rampant with “selfies” and other forms of self-indulgence. The entertainment industry promotes this through its music and movies. There aren’t that many movies that revere people over 60. It’s not unusual to find movies that show the aged as dithering, demented and slow. The mass media keeps perpetuating this image of older folk.
We see ageism in how the young look upon the older folk. An example is giving up a seat on a bus or train. While it is courteous, it also reflects the image that older people somehow are so weak that they cannot stand on a bus trip. We have experienced this ourselves even though we are reasonably fit.
There is also the assumption that older people are slow, not with it and even suffering dementia when they are not. It is an attitude that belittles and treats the elderly in a child-like manner. While there are seniors who need assistance and suffer from dementia, assuming that all the elderly are this way is categorizing and putting people in a box.
One area where ageism rears its head ugly head is on the topic of sexuality. Just enter into a discussion about sex with the younger crowd and invariably you get a disgusted cringeworthy reaction. Somehow our children seem to believe that sex disappears after 50. Little do they know!
There is an old saying by Mahatma Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” How can we alter the perception of others––notably the younger generation––if we have negative perceptions of ourselves. In speaking to seniors and baby boomers, we find a significant number who act as if they are victims of their age. Yes, some seniors can put limits on ourselves.
Recently we were at a function where we met someone from university days. We couldn’t believe how much she had aged even though she is the same age as we are. We suggested that she get up and dance with us, and her response was, “I couldn’t do that.” Our attitudes and thoughts in life have a great deal to do with our physical appearance. Just look at someone who is depressed; their shoulders are hunched and often their face has a dull appearance.
Our experience has been that when we lead through our actions, others will follow. In other words, if seniors want to overcome the scourge of ageism they need to get out front and lead by being inspirational. Many individuals are doing this. Take the example of Robert Marchand, who is a 102-year-old cyclist or Lynn Miller, who started doing Stand-Up comedy at the age of 70. They are defying the typical viewpoint that people have of the older generation.
So get inspired and find your passion. When you do what you love and love what you do, you will radiate your enthusiasm for life and others will follow. Ageism will no longer be in your vocabulary.