Strolling around the interwebs the other day, I landed at a blog (new to me) by a 50-something woman who described herself thusly:
“Nowadays, as I find myself getting older in body, I am trying to stay young in spirit.”
The widespread use of such phrases as “young in spirit” - young at heart being the most common - tick me off because they set up a false comparison between young and old in which the only takeaway possible is negative - that old spirits and hearts are simply unacceptable.
Whenever I discuss this, I get a good deal of pushback from readers who like those phrases or, at most, find them mildly annoying and easy to ignore. This only helps to prove that we have been so brainwashed since childhood by pejorative language about being old that we no longer even recognize it – dangerous because it makes us complicit in our own stereotyping.
In Media Takes: On Aging [pdf], a handbook on ageist language for journalists from the International Longevity Center, it is noted that just when the aging of the huge baby boomer generation is causing closer examination of what getting old is really like,
“...we continue to have embedded in our culture a fear of growing old, manifest by negative stereotypes and language that belittles the very nature of growing old, its complexities and tremendous variability.”
One of my pet examples of the belittlement that is rarely recognized as such is found at an idiom website defining the phrase, young at heart:
”To have youthful outlook, especially in spite of one's age. For example, She loves carnivals and fairs; she's a grandmother but she's young at heart.”
Inclusion of “in spite of one's age” means there is no way to misconstrue the meaning: at its most crude - young hearts good; old hearts bad.
The usual dictionary definitions of young include:
- Being in an early period of life, development, or growth
- Newly begun or formed; not advanced
- Inexperienced or immature
- Having the appearance, freshness, vigor, or other qualities of youth
At nearly 71, I left behind my early period of life, development and growth many years ago. I'm a long way from newly begun or formed. It pleases me to think I have advanced a good deal on many levels. I am experienced now and mature. After seven decades, I would be embarrassed to have it any other way.
Although I do not believe "freshness and vigor" are necessarily confined to the young, I definitely no longer have the appearance of youth and feel no lament about that. All the years I have accumulated have been well used. They fit nicely and are comfortable.
I am old in spirit and at heart and that is a good thing to be.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Stroppy: Losing Things No 2