I used to like being told I look great for my age. It was a super ego-booster, made me feel special. But what did that remark really mean? It meant that the person making the remark has a stereotypical view of what older people SHOULD look like. And I didn’t fit their stereotype. It wasn’t really a compliment. It was a remark tainted with prejudice.
It wasn’t until I began reading This Chair Rocks by Ashton Applewhite* that the scourge of ageism in America became crystal clear. Our society is awash in it. Not only is there a psychological bias against older adults, the scourge has even infected the minds of many older Americans. And who is proof of this? Me. Yes, me.And I’m not alone. I would estimate that thousands of seniors have the same mindset: Age is less.
How many of us self-relegate our post-employment lives to looking for things to do, relying on others to initiate activities, and resigning ourselves to lives of inaction, dependency, and ‘keeping busy’? True, many seniors are limited due to illness, care-giving responsibilities, and financial issues.
But others of us “olders” (to use Applewhite’s term) have internalized ‘ageism’ and may be using this stereotypical mindset against ourselves. Are we becoming our worst enemies, by inducing a mentality of self-limitation, self-denial, even self-diminishment? I recently saw a play about three inner-city, African American, teenage girls wrestling with whether to become teenage moms; possibly continuing a cycle of low income, one-parent families, and likely curtailing their education. How many ‘olders’ do something similar, i.e., accept the notion that their time has passed?
I went through this: As I circle the landing field of ‘octogeno-land,’ I’ve been considering starting a free mediation project in my neighborhood. Should I or shouldn’t I? Like many communities, differences between neighbors can erupt into toxic standoffs. Why not make available a mediation service that offers neighbors a way to resolve their disputes consensually and amicably?
Much of my hesitation was age-based. My interior dialogue kept asking, “Am I too old to begin such an initiative?” After weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, I’m glad to report that I’ve gone public with the project.
Will it work out? I haven’t a clue. But at least I took the risk. Thank you, Ashton Applewhite.
* Networked Books, 2015
Editor’s Notes: After Fifty Living thanks Guest Blogger Sig Cohen of Tough Conversations for this great post! Sig is a Mediator in DC and is dedicated to seeing individuals and groups resolve their disputes in ways that foster improved communication when dealing with future issues and avoid costly litigation. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-544-5675.