What is Ageism?
Robert Butler, a psychologist in the USA, first coined the term ageism and defined it as “a process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old”.
The late rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi believed ageism to be every bit as offensive and dangerous as discrimination based on sex or race, fostering stereotypes that discourage older adults from participating in the work world, in social and political arenas, and in cultural pursuits. He went on to say that “according to popular ageist myths, older adults are unproductive, sexless, senile, poor, sick, and inflexible”.
“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
Evidence of our early negative stereotypes is all around us. Recently a doctor commented that most of his patients who have reached retirement age seem, in his perception, to be in a holding pattern. Many are seemingly fearful to even consider that their coming later years could be utilized to create a very rich life.
It may be helpful to realize that holding on to early negative stereotyping around age is a ‘form of prejudice against ones’ future self’.
So, what will be our future?
Recently, Dr. Christine Northrup spoke about our need to reframe aging and rid ourselves of ageism. I’ve paraphrased a few of her ideas, and added some of my own for you to reflect upon. Most important of all is our need to ‘pay attention to our language’.
“I’m having a senior moment” – be aware that we currently receive over 250 times more information in one day than we would have, had we lived for a whole year in 1900. Our biology has not caught up with the technology that surrounds us in the form of cell phones, television, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s as if our brain is similar to a hard drive on a computer – the more information that is stored, the slower the computer (our brain) works. I believe that it’s not that we’re losing our memory it’s just that it takes us longer to sort things, given the quantity. And this happens well before age 50, particularly given the deluge of data that most people experience.
What do you expect at your age? – When you think that, or someone says this to you, including health professionals, don’t buy it. Become aware that age and health do not correlate directly. If we focus on being healthy throughout our lives, we are highly likely to be healthy in our later years. Being ‘old’ does not have to mean being sick, frail or useless! And, be aware that ‘old’ is now looked upon as beginning sometime after 80+.
“I’m not bad for an old guy – or old gal” – Become aware that your language will create your reality. If you believe you are ‘old’ then your body will give you ‘old’ – as someone once said, your body will fall for whatever you tell it!
At my age, it’s too late to…. travel, learn new skills, write a book, or fall in love. Here’s another example of how our ‘beliefs’ drive our behaviors. Ask yourself, what else might be possible if I believed that’ it’s never too late’?
Labeling ourselves as a ‘senior’, ‘silver’, ‘retired’, or any other age related labels that segregate and isolate – The more we allow society to produce ‘generational marketing’ to both old and young, the more older adults become removed from the ‘conceptual maps’ of younger people. Recent data shows that we are living in the most age-segregated society that’s ever been.
The label of ‘senior citizen’ was a word first coined in the US in the late 1930’s as a way to identify those older citizens who were largely poor, destitute, in need of housing and health care, as well as, political focus and attention.
Consider that your biological age, and your chronological age can be very different. For example, while my chronological age may be 73, I believe my biological age is closer to 40, and dropping – especially due to my last couple of years of strength and cardio vascular training. My wisdom age is over 200 and growing upward.
Notice who you hang out with. If many of your friends are people who believe they are ‘old’, and over the hill, with no discernable future the probability of thinking you are ‘old’ as well, is pretty high! Find people who have vitality, high energy, and a love of life, dreams for the future, and an interest in creating great lives – regardless of their age.
Consider the impact of using humor, especially ‘old people’ jokes to deflect your anxiety about growing older. They do not give you a happy perspective foryour future! Instead look for inspirational funny stories of people who aregrowing older with zest, creativity, and fun – loving every moment of it.
While the foregoing steps are not a panacea for ending ageism, they do represent a greatstart. Our early negative programming must be deconstructed, step-by-step. So much depends on our society waking up to the new world that is unfolding, with great promise, in front of our very eyes!
So, in closing, I invite you to ask yourself: What is even one belief I’m holding onto that makes my attitude and behaviors ageist? What impact does this belief have on my current life. If I let it go how might my life change??
May be reprinted in part or in whole, with acknowledgement of author.