The BBC recently ran a piece on new anti-age discrimination laws
in the UK. Although anti-age discrimination laws aren’t new in the USA,
the statistics show that, while age is on the same list with sexual
preference, race, gender and the handicapped, the practices that limit
opportunity for people as they age suggests the laws aren’t making much
difference. In fact, since the 1960s, like many western countries,
employment amongst the over 50s in the US has fallen, not risen.
Another BBC report on anti-aging discrimination laws in the US noted
that, as it’s becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a working life
as you age, an increasing number of claims against employers on the
grounds of age discrimination reveal a growing awareness of this issue.
of this is particularly surprising. Our society and institutions have
been biased toward the young for a long time. Now as the ‘Boomers’
enter into late midlife, the depth and implications of this bias are
becoming more and more apparent. The good news is that the same folks
who fought for civil rights are having the opportunity to do it again.
I applaud these efforts. The bigger challenge, however, is not to
simply wage another campaign ‘against’ discrimination, small-minded
people and shortsighted policies. We don’t need to tranquilize
ourselves that entitlements and ‘rights’ change a culture’s practices
or have people do the right thing. Intelligence, morality and common
sense have never been successfully legislated. Perhaps this says
something about the nature of most legislators.
The fact, however, is that we “get what we resist”. And if we really
want to change attitudes, and most importantly the practices of age
discrimination, then we need to focus on what we are FOR and not what
we are AGAINST.
‘Ageism’ is the term normally used for describing systemic and
cultural discrimination because of age. When women’s rights were the
issue, the term ‘feminism’ became the rallying flag for those standing
for equality of the sexes and the possibilities for viewing women as
assets and not merely as useful liabilities in the workplace. How about
we change the term ‘ageism’ into a call for action, a crusade FOR
valuing people BECAUSE of their age? Let’s not allow ourselves to get
sucked into having to defend and justify who we are and fight for a
place at the table. Let’s not stoop to becoming constituents in a
political process. Let us start speaking and acting from wherever we
are—FOR WHO WE ARE, for what we already contribute and what we will
continue to contribute.
Let’s make it clear in every conversation that WE ARE THE
FUTURE—along with everyone else. Moreover, let’s not go quietly into
the night, but loudly let our fellow citizens know that we are leaders
in these challenging times and that we are engaged in using our
experience and wisdom for the benefit of all and do not need permission
or laws to do so.