It’s a sad turn in American history and a sorry statement of the human condition when the outside world tells us who and what we are, and we sometimes start to believe it ourselves.
I’ve fought this online for decades; now it’s time to fight it as I get older.
I see it as a challenge that runs all through life, now more than ever.
Ageism is the last acceptable form of bigotry unless you run for President.
Older people are rarely shown in positive ways in our culture or media, and when they are portrayed at all, they are consistently presented as useless, unwanted, doddering, expensive, helpless, incompetent, and needy.
When did you last see a healthy or happy older adult on the news or in a movie? They can’t make fun of women and black and gay people anymore; no one gets into trouble for stereotyping or demeaning the elderly.
Corporate health care makes billions keeping us alive too long, while shameless and cowardly politicians blame us for bleeding the treasury.
As an older man, I can caution you not to be fooled as I discover the truth of my existence.
You probably already know that not everything you see on the news or in your streaming videos is true.
When it comes to portraying the elderly, I’m discovering that we are a stereotype of exaggerated trouble and nasty characteristics. And we are lied about.
Now that I’m paying attention, I see vigorous older people everywhere hiking, skiing, working, exercising, writing, traveling, falling in love, and painting.
For years now, researchers have found and known that only five percent of those over sixty-five are in assisted or special care institutions and eighty percent of the rest of the older population have no limitations when it comes to managing the tasks of daily living – shopping, driving, cooking, cleaning, routine maintenance.
I had no idea of this.
Statistics also show that people my age have more chronic illnesses – the body is deteriorating and weakening – than young people but fewer acute illnesses.
(My wolf’s head cane, my new symbol of aging. Please don’t mess with me.)
Older people suffer fewer injuries in the home and have fewer accidents on the highway. All of these statistics – you can check them out for yourself – surprised me and challenged the stereotypes of the elder throughout the spectrum of media and culture – news, books, social media movies, and music.
Every doctor I see asks me if I’ve fallen down as if this is the primary danger of getting older. Every person I meet asks me about my health as if that is the most significant thing about me. These things are patronizing and dehumanizing.
If I fall, I’ll let the doctors know about t.
I have heart disease, diabetes, and some short-term memory. I have dyslexia also, and that has always caused me to make mistakes. Some of those look like aging mistakes.
None of these health issues have halted my work, activity, writing, photography, or social life. And yes, I love having sex and having some as often as possible. We are both happy in this regard.
We all have problems in life; at any age, we can almost always learn to work around them.
Joan Chittister writes about the gifts of aging and aging well in her essay Ageism.
There is good news for people my age: getting old is also rich in spiritual meaning, something missing from most of my early life and that of many younger people.
“To those to whom much has been given,” she writes, “we know much is expected.” Amen to that.
That means me.
Age does not release me from my obligation to give something back to the world and to leave it a little better because I am here. I do this daily through the Army of Good, the refugee children, the older adults at the Mansion, and my life. I do more good than ever the older I get.
For me, and many others, the jokes and stereotypes about aging are starting to wear thin and are no longer funny, if they ever were. There are too many of us; we know lies when we see them and live with them daily.
Ageism is a lie; all one has to do is look around and then look inward.
My only rational response is to reject this ingrained and foolish way of thinking about the elderly and its implications and just live my life.
Getting older is not something to be shamed for or pitied for. I can make aging as right and vibrant a place in life as an I want it to be.
No one can do that for me, and no one can take that away from me with dumb jokes and ignorant assumptions.
Bigotry is an ugly thing, for anyone, at any age.
I don’t intend to waste the remaining years of m life.
A burden of these years is the danger that we might internalize the negative stereotypes of the aging process.
If we listen to how our culture portrays us, we might become what we fear and abdicate our new life call.
(That’s what “old talk” – “at our age” – is all about – a kind of unknowing self-hatred transmitted by the outside world.)
A blessing of these years is that we are responsible for proving the stereotypes wrong and giving age its fullness of life.
I just watched a film called “Dirtbag” last night. It’s a documentary about Mountaineer Fred Beckey who in seven decades achieved hundreds of first ascents on the tallest peaks. He was still climbing into his Nineties.
It is still often acceptable to mistreat and misjudge the disabled. When I heard that the victim in the Virginia case in the news this morning was “combative” and therefore smothered by the seven law enforcement officers there, I thought of loved elders who had been given psychoactive drugs without consent (and other violations of one’s autonomy) and , naturally, protested or become “combative” as an excuse for the nurse gave them even more psychoactive drugs.
It is actually amazing that once one crosses the 70-79 birthday, so many, especially professionals, make assumptions about the elder making mistakes. Recently, our (former) accountant told my husband that he had to be mistaken about complaining about a service company’s overcharging him. We checked, my husband was correct, we dropped the accountants.
I was up for a position with a major paper in my state, but they gave the position to a younger male who quit after a couple of months to go to Europe to find himself. I was around 50-years-old. I ended up writing for this publication as a freelancer for about 10 years until the Internet took many, many writing jobs away. By no means was this the only time I encountered out and out age discrimination. I was a nontraditional student who graduated at 47-years-old. Not once did I miss getting on the Deans List (I’m not bragging but trying to make a point). But I would walk in to an interview with some 25-year-old and get the look. Long story short I didn’t get hired and I finally gave up. Age discrimination is real. So imagine trying to find a new job in your 60’s or 70s or 80’s. And many older people need to work to supplement their social security.
I don’t worry about things I can’t control any more? That leaves me with about 1% of what is going on around me. What color of socks should I wear today? White. That’s the only color I have in the drawer. What’s my biggest goal now? Don’t wake up in a nursing home. I made it again this morning.
Several years ago when COVID was raging, I tried to get data on infections in assisted living communities, as there are many in our neighborhood.
It seems our then-governor had put an embargo on public release of all such data. Our local paper had sued for this information, and lost their case.
Jon, you have certainly helped me feel like I am still a relevant human, in spite of my age, and that I can and do have something to say, and something to give. Eschewing old talk, finding small ways to help others, learning new things, taking classes, learning how to go within to generate the peace we seek, learning how to transform our suffering of fools and haters into purpose. Your life is one giant billboard that says, “I am here, I am wildly curious, I have the capacity and desire to love and be and enjoy this one precious life, no one gets to decide my relevance or worthiness, and I love sharing my life with others with the hope that they may come to know these things too.” Thank you, Jon.
Amen To That!
I use the expression “at our age” meaning that when one has lived X number of years, one has acquired certain knowledge, witnessed a great deal, that sort of thing. I don’t regard that as demeaning or ageist. Medical offices always ask if you have fallen because it’s one of the questions all medical groups require them to ask, same as “do you feel safe at home?” I get bored with those too, but that is part of the game.
I know, but I don’t like the game.
As a PT, I am a Geriatric Specialist (and I qualify for the club). I have fought this fight against ageism in the hospital, community, and personal arenas. It is sobering how all three theatres are willing to dismiss the present and defer to youth. I have seen many folk regain independence seen many through death and listened to many stories. It has been a surprising and fully enriching path I stumbled upon, one from which I am able to daily draw inspiration and insight. We become oddly invisible, an alternate secret garden.
What young people have a hard time imagining is that, if they’re lucky, they too will be old one day. If they are really lucky, they will thrive in old age, maybe with a little assistance. Having just had my 82nd birthday, I’m lucky to be living on my own, but also living in a town that has a lot of support services for anyone, old or young, who has any kind of disability. I volunteer at our local Senior Center, which has lots of stuff going on: games, exercise classes, yoga, book club, potlucks, trips to museums and other attractions, the list goes on. It also has a transportation program staffed by volunteer drivers to take people who can’t drive for one reason or another to appointments and shopping. Low-cost membership is available to anyone of any age and many of the programs don’t even require membership to participate. Our town thrives on its population of older volunteers. We are mostly retired, so have time and at least some energy to contribute lots to the community. Not to mention our contribution to the tax base.