Wednesday, 06 August 2014
The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
”There’s no shame in spending an afternoon on a park bench reading a novel, or watching the children play. It is expected of the elderly, even when they are in good health...But idleness is only satisfying for a while; repose soon turns into boredom.
“There is no material need to be productive [if you don't have money worries], though; nor are you expected to be productive.
"That’s the trouble with getting old: there are no expectations and, without them, eventually those low expectations are fulfilled.”
That's from a Monday story in the Montreal Gazette that doctafil who blogs at Jive Chalkin' emailed and although this wasn't the plan, it extends the theme that has developed this week of goals in old age.
If the comments in the past two days – and in general over years – are any indication, readers of this blog are a productive lot but we pull it off, I think, each by our individual efforts without help, and certainly without consensus, from society.
In fact, the zeitgeist of the United States toward old people goes something like this:
• Leave the workplace (often forced)
• Sign up for Medicare
• Sign up for Social Security
• Listen to repeated threats to cut those two programs
The world of the old in the United States is a cultural no man's land dedicated to the idea that whatever knowledge and experience elders earned in their lifetimes is wiped clean from their brains at age 60 or 65. No one believes the old know anything and they prefer us to become invisible.
Obviously, I can't speak for Canada but my sense over the years is that in many important ways, we in the U.S. are not much different from our neighbors to the north.
Here's how Canadian Daniel Nonen, the writer of the Gazette story, talks about the low expectations phenomenon:
”It continues to be acceptable to patronize old people with low expectations...
“Old people need a liberation movement like the great North American movements of the past 60 years that are improving the lot of blacks, women, gays and lesbians...
“However, there is an important difference between racism, sexism, prejudice based on sexual orientation and the discrimination that old people face.
“The prejudices that created the need for those liberation movements were based on tradition rather than fact. There is a factual basis behind ageism. Physical strength and beauty peak in youth, as does mental agility, and then they decline.
“However, valuable social skills and societal understanding continue to grow throughout middle age and into old age. The accommodations needed to incorporate old people who want to continue working are small, such as shorter work days and longer breaks...”
Of course, it's both not as simple as that and bigger than that too. It shouldn't be only about remaining in the workplace. It should be about support, opportunity - and expectation - for elders to contribute in all the ways that are desperately needed and would engage our storehouses of experience.
Nevertheless, Mr. Nonen's suggestion is a good place to start the public conversation:
”...the most important accommodation that society should make doesn’t cost anything,” he concludes. “People should simply start to expect more from old people. They should reject the 'soft bigotry of low expectations.'”
Not just “people” but we old people, too, should expect more of ourselves and each other. It's got to start somewhere.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: The Crypt