One Closing Down, One To Go
Elder? It Fits Nicely

Ageism: Look Unto Thyself

category_bug_ageism.gif While looking over a blog post just before publishing it a few days ago, I found myself thinking for a moment, “yeah, well – that’s just an old woman’s take” – the point being that no one would therefore care.

That thought was swiftly followed by “Whoa! Hold on there just a minute, cowgirl. What’s wrong with an old woman’s opinion and why shouldn’t it be taken seriously?” How could I, having ranted and railed here for two years against our ageist culture along with those who perpetrate and perpetuate it, reflexively surrender to a feeling of futility about the value of an elder opinion?

I had dismissed my own thoughts as unimportant based on my age.

It is a startling moment - if you run such a blog as Time Goes By and flatter yourself a defender of the rights of elders - to be confronted with your own, kneejerk ageism. And the question naturally follows: what other ageist beliefs and perceptions are lurking about in my mind unnoticed and unattended to?

The reason for the “slip” in thinking, of course, is the culture’s inherent bias against elders. Taught from the cradle, none of us is free of it effects.

Who pays attention these days what Jimmy Carter thinks; he’s an old man now, decades removed from power.

Who listens to Bill Moyers now that he’s an old man, so old he gave up his PBS program.

Who cares what Betty Friedan caused to happen for women. Young Wall Street mistresses of the universe types don’t even know her name and refuse to be labeled feminists.

There was a time when what these people said was front-page news. Their opinions once swayed beliefs and that led to public policy changes. But no one seriously listens to these people anymore because they committed the ultimate sin; they got old.

No one cares what old people think. They’re all going to be dead soon anyway. Or, as a recent TGB commenter who identified himself only as “bob,” baldly states:

“Fuck all the old fogues in this world. all they do is anything slow, boring or talk about the good old days. Live for today you miserable old shits!!!” [Spelling and grammar are bob’s.]

Until my inadvertent moment of clarity a couple of days ago, I had put only the most minimal thought to my own ageism or that of other elders. No one is completely free of bias. The important thing is to recognize it in ourselves and not let it keep us from doing the right thing.

Comments

I hae slowly realized why I find television less and less relevant in my life. I used to enjoy a number of shows, but there are few characters to relate to, and only the BBC has people of a certain age as intelligent protagonists. They also have people that look like real people not someone from Stepford.

The subject of ageism has been weighing heavily on me for some time now. I intentionally avoided an early response to your last post on the subject. Why? Well, I find it a bit depressing I suppose. It does seem to be a fact of life. And it is also why I actively seek out other ‘elders’ so that at least I get the respect that someone is interested in what I have to say and is listening. I am certainly mature enough to handle differences of opinion and the like, but to be disregarded as an ‘aging idiot’ and be accused of having strayed to far away from my medication does bother me. Especially when you have been fortunate enough in a lifetime of social interaction with people to have had your opinions respected. Not necessarily agreed with - but respected which is the least a reasonable person should expect.

Ageism is so apparent here in Cyberspace and to a certain degree is magnified. Especially if you frequent many blogs and forums and interact with the younger generation. Most of those entities that follow my general interest are pretty much dominated by a younger generation. Having reached senior status I take some pride I suppose in the fact that the ‘wisdom of the elders’ I have heard so much about in my walk down the path of life has indeed seeded itself within me as it has most of you I’m sure. I don’t find myself trying to flaunt that fact, but I do find myself in many instances trying to share the information and knowledge gained by that fact. No different than a parent trying to convey their self-gained wisdom and experience to a child I suppose, full well knowing that the child may or may not acknowledge the teaching and ultimately choose to having it become a ‘life’ lesson rather than a ‘parent’ lesson.

And not to become melodramatic here but…..

Even now I seriously contemplate closing my own website and blog due to the fact of ageism. I almost flaunt my age in both cases. But I do so because inside this old body is still the spirit and soul of a twenty-year old. And were it not for relating certain stories and facts that I have participated in during my life, my age would probably never be apparent. But once you lay the ‘age’ card on the table – the whole atmosphere surrounding you and your status changes.

And…..there is, I think, a ‘flip-side’ to this phenomenon. Sometimes I wonder if we, in some measure, bring it on ourselves. Others might say it is simply human nature. I mean, from our perspective do we practice ‘youthism’! I sometimes wonder if I don’t perhaps view young people, in a general sense, as they view me. What is the difference in thinking, “You stupid kid – you don’t have a clue!” verses their thinking, “You crazy old man – go take your medication!” I know that in many cases I look at a situation involving a young person and categorize their remark or decision as one worthy of the old, “Doesn’t have the sense God gave a goose!” comment. All based on my youthism racism. You think?

Our opinions and knowledge surrounding various subjects are finally well grounded in the fact that we are of some age and that alone, in my opinion, gives serious credence to those opinions. No, it doesn’t mean we know it all, but it does carry with it the fact that when we speak one would be the wiser to at least listen.

You know, there was a time several thousand years ago when the ‘elders’ spoke – the masses listened. Well, at least the majority of the time. :)

alan g. offers more to think about. he reminds me that one of our elder "issues" is not-listening. we have such a richness of experience that we often use the comment of another as a trigger for our own memory/idea. or, i should use the first person: i have to monitor my too-easy drift into sharing my latest thought--rather than responding more fully to yours.

what ronni describe here has another dimension: layers of ageism. this is the way those in their fifties view people 20 years older than themselves, or even 10 years older. am i old and you are really old?

There's another attitude possibly at work here: the common one voiced awhile back on this very blog against the perennial search for the fountain of youth, a medical breakthrough that will extend longevity to centuries. The feeling that we elders have had our chance; now we can move over and let younger people have theirs.
This might be a legitimate (and merciful) receding of ego that comes in later years, along the order of the aging specialist Ronni quoted in an earlier post, who wrote of adaptive powers of elders bringing a compensatory feeling of well-being and contentment as the body declines.
Think about the unanimity voiced by commenters to the recent posting here about the blogging industry's measurement of quantity over quality in their blog-awards or "A-list." Nearly all commenters said they cared about content over numbers of readers. I suspect that these commenters are all over fifty, and that those who care about being on A-list tend to be younger.
Perhaps this need to be heard, the need to count readers to feel good about oneself, is something we naturally break free of as we age.

I am constantly reminded of my age when I look at much that we see on the internet, as Alan G points out, but I have also made friends with people my children's ages because of being on the Internet. Once in a great while they actually learn something from something I may have posted in my journal or a video I've posted.

I don't do this for "them" anyway; I do it for me.

I also agree with Tabor, who finds less and less to relate to on television, though I think if we stick only to characters who are of our own era, that is limiting too. I've learned a lot from my children and their friends all the while they were growing up, and am pleased that we have good friends who are younger than some of our kids. And I always learn from everyone.

I think that's one of the good points about growing older, you have a wider perspective from which to draw!

(Ever the optimist)

Apart from the wisdom that comes with it, age is only as deep as beauty.

When I returned to college at the ripe old age of 41 to begin training for a new profession, there were three of us older students, though I was the oldest.

In and outside of classes (except to each other) each of us had the good sense to never volunteer our child-rearing, family, prior work experiences, or other useful, pertinent knowledge we had acquired, unless we were directly asked to do so by a professor or a student. As a consequence, when we went through those years and then graduate school with the same core group of much younger students, they began to seek out our views and opinions. Likewise, we often sought them out for their perspectives.

At an informal casual social function, a group of the younger students were overheard to be making some age-related comments. When they were gently but humorously reminded to be careful, that they were treading on our age group, they quickly, genuinely responded, "Oh that doesn't apply to you(and they named all three of us)because you're one of us."

One other thing I recall doing, which I think my other two friends did, since we weren't always in the same classes, was to ask questions of the professor anytime we did not understand, no matter how dumb the question might seem.

I cannot tell you how many times after class students expressed appreciation for having had the question asked because they were too embarassed or afraid they would appear stupid. Age gave me the confidence and fearless attitude of not caring what others thought (including the professor,) that allowed me to do so...plus I really wanted to know.

There is something to be said for fostering a give and take of information between generations; waiting for others to seek us out for information once a relationship has been established, graciously accepting when the information is not sought; never assuming that just because we are older, have had the experience, we also have the best solution or answer.

The times they are achangin', continue to do so. Consequently, our solutions may not work in a different time and place for individuals with different needs, values, and goals.

Listen...listen...listen...we will hear volumes to guide how we may share our wisdom. Our actions will shape the responses we receive.

Timely post, Ronni, because I actually put myself down in today's blog entry. But you sure are right--and we do it to ourselves sometimes, no matter how "enlightened" we are. In the Seattle airport on Thursday afternoon, I grabbed a burger at Burger King right before my flight back to L.A. All the servers were Filipino and they were efficient and friendly. What startled me, however, was that a mid-life age woman order taker said to her co-worker, "You take the young one, and I'll take the old one." I was the old one and the other one was a young businessman. At first I felt offended and then I thought that the Filipino culture actually venerates their elderly and maybe it wasn't an insult at all. Maybe it was just the truth. Still thinking about it.

You've touched lots of chords. Yes, those of us who are older are often guilty of impatience precisely with others of us who are older, as much impatience (or more)than our youngers show, since at least some of them respect or defer to age.
Lots of ambivalence: we want respect and deference, but we don't want to be seen or treated as "old." We want the best of both worlds, not so different from what we wanted when we were younger.
The richest conversations I have are often with my peers in their 60s and 70s, but not always. I treasure the exchanges with other generations when we take each other seriously. There's a lot I don't know, a lot of living they are doing that I may have skipped, or we just went different paths. I would never want only to be surrounded by people like me, same history, same memories (maybe same politics, although even there the echo chamber might pall).
But as always, your comments trigger introspection, and that's good.

As I spend more time in groups of women over 50, I'm stuck by the contradictions. Here are strong, powerful women; business owners, attorneys, executives, "retired" women with fuller lives than any I've ever known. And yet, they express fear, feelings of lonliness, concerns about becoming invisible.
Step aside? We have so many years past 50 to be strong contributors. I hope we restore the word elder to it's proper place of honor and blaze a trail for all those who will follow..

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