The buck stops here – defeating ageism starts with you
Ageism is all around. It’s ingrained culturally, socially, economically.
It’s the last acceptable prejudice and, as the UN puts it, “an insidious scourge on society.”
You only need to turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper or take public transport to see that. Sadly, despite their wealth, experience and knowledge, old people are reviled the world over. They’re demonised, discriminated against and disregarded.
Now I know we’re all sick of COVID, but it’s the most recent, blatant and deadly example of widespread ageism I can think of.
– In Europe around half of coronavirus deaths occurred in care homes because they were not prioritised in emergency response measures.
– The deaths of younger people were a key focus in news reports, whilst older people who succumbed to the deadly virus were reduced to a statistic.
– Resentment about lockdowns which were seen to be to protect susceptible older people grew by the day.
– Older workers were much more likely to lose their jobs than their younger counterparts.
The pandemic was, at least initially, seen as an older person’s problem. A dangerous conclusion which led to its impact being downplayed.
The medical journal, The Lancet, analysed tweets about old people and COVID in the first 10 days of the pandemic. Almost a quarter, “downplayed the importance of COVID-19 because it was deadlier among older individuals, and 14% contained offensive content or jokes about the older generations.” It found that, as well as leading anyone who doesn’t consider themselves “old” to perhaps take the disease less seriously, tweets like these normalized discrimination against older individuals.
It wasn’t always this way
In Roman times, elders were revered and respected. And I truly believe we can return to this way of thinking – some day. But how?
“Older people must stand up for themselves. Old age is respected only if it defends itself, maintains its rights, and submits to no one,” said Marcus Cicero, Roman statesman.
And he was absolutely right. If we belittle ourselves, lose confidence in our abilities and hide ourselves away, society will too.
There has been a shift in recent years. Ageism has at least been recognized and some attempts made to combat it – socially, economically, culturally and politically, but we need to do more. And I’m afraid the buck stops with us.
Ageism is all around, wherever we go, whoever we speak to. It’s there. The UN concluded just last year that half of the world’s population are ageist. Can you honestly say you’re not?
The first step to combatting ageism is to recognize it.
Then we need to acknowledge it. We need to become more aware of what others say to us about old age, of what we say to others about old age and most importantly of what we say to ourselves about old age.
Professor Alan Walker is one of the UK’s leading voices on social gerontology. In his mind, “retirement is both a leading form of age discrimination and the driving force behind the development of ageism.”
So why retire? This is my thinking. Why put ourselves out to pasture when we have so much more to give?
I retired and I hated it and so I ‘unretired’ myself and created a life of purpose, passion and prosperity. It wasn’t easy, it took a huge shift in mindset. I had to change the way I saw myself and start to believe in myself again.
Once my belief system shifted, so too did the way others saw me, treated me and spoke to me. When I found faith in myself again, the world did too. That’s why I encourage others to follow suit. The more us boomers show society what we’re still capable of, the more the world will sit up and listen.
And that, in my opinion, is the only way to eliminate ageism once and for all.
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