Is Ageism the Problem?

I was talking to a friend recently who was suggesting I commit this blog to defeating ‘ageism’ in all of its often subtle and insidious forms. I said, I don’t want to make this about being ‘against’ ageism for three reasons. First, if there is one thing I have learned in life it is that we get what we resist. Even Martin Luther King wasn’t so much against discrimination as he was ‘for’ equality. Secondly, I want to be ‘for’ the possibility of aging and that is as much about discovery and creating than it is about political power or  ‘fixing’ the status quo. Thirdly, and probably most important, is that ‘ageism’ isn’t the problem we face as we get older. It is a symptom.

  • It is a symptom of generations of older folks buying into stereotypes that growing older means we are ‘past our prime’
  • It is a symptom of a society and culture that equates aging with loss of power
  • It is a symptom of a paradigm that regards human beings as objects, and old objects are better than young objects.
  • It is a symptom of individuals who don’t know who they are
  • It is a symptom of living in a context of fear and scarcity
  • It is a symptom of denial and resistance to change

Like most ‘isms’, there is an underlying notion that we, another person or our circumstances ‘should be’ different. The result is a knee-jerk response attempting to control a situation or people combined with a denial or cognitive blindness to one’s personal responsibility and choice in the matter. For example, ‘feminism’ is both a political movement and a philosophy grounded in the view that society is constructed in a way that is unfair and discriminatory to women. Its success as a movement came from millions of men and women declaring their commitment to change and to doing the ‘right’ thing. While there was lots of political action, the game changed as people became aware of the issues and their own responsibility in the matter. It raised the consciousness of mankind to see that the differences between the genders is trivial when compared to the possibility we are as fully empowered human beings co-creating a future together that honors, respects and, above all, values the contribution of others.

Today, as the Boomer generation enters their 60s, there is a widespread institutional and societal negative bias toward older people. I believe it will be a mistake to focus the discourse solely on political and economic injustice. This will make ‘constituents’ of the generations and pit grandparents against their children and grandchildren—ultimately leading them to compete for power and resources.

I believe it is the responsibility of the older generation to take 100% responsibility for ‘the way it is’ and focus our conversation on what older persons have to offer—we must declare our value and demonstrate who we are through our contributions and, hopefully, our wisdom. For older persons to drift into a sense of entitlement or, worse, to become victims is to give power to the very culture of marginalization and decline that is at the core of ageism in all its forms.

Let’s show each other who we are and what we stand FOR.

0 thoughts on “Is Ageism the Problem?”

  1. Well said, Jim. I think that “conventional” notions of ageism will begin to fall by the wayside if the Boomers will have anything to say about it. They simply will not tolerate marginalization in any form, as it takes away the cognitive societal power and influence they have spent the past 30 or so years nurturing.

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