Peter Tibbles and the AM in Oregon
How Progressive Elders Can Help

“Honoring” Elders During Older Americans Month

ITEM: The public transportation agency in Portland, Oregon, TriMet, avoids using the word “old” with a hokey euphemism Crabby Old Lady had not heard before moving here. As they explain on their website:

"'Honored Citizen' is how TriMet identifies seniors age 65 or older, people on Medicare and people with mental or physical disabilities. Honored Citizens receive reduced fares and priority seating on buses and trains.”

What a crock. Empty phrases like "honored citizen" are what give political correctness (and in this case, elders), a bad name.

ITEM: A local service organization that does excellent work for elders in many areas of need and interest is using the May designation of Older Americans Month as a fundraiser urging people to donate in the name of an old person who will then receive a “handmade card” recognizing the gift made in their honor.

Just what every elder needs; Crabby is sure they are thrilled.

ITEM: The U.S. government's Administration on Aging (AOA) website explains that Older Americans Month is meant to “honor and recognize older Americans for the contributions they make to our families, communities and society.”

But that's not what the AOA does. Instead, each year, the organization issues a theme for Older Americans Month:

”This year's theme 'Never Too Old to Play' encourages older Americans to stay engaged, active and involved in their own lives and in their communities.”

The AOA's big suggestion for communities to encourage older Americans' engagement is to host a “Day of Play” during May with such activities as a “team trivia night, inter-generational Wii bowling tournament or...a photo scavenger hunt.”

Oh yeah, Crabby is certain that a round of miniature golf will honor elders as never before.

To be fair, an activity guide brochure [pdf] has some other, more palatable, “play” suggestions but to Crabby, it still looks like the same two, disturbingly wrong depictions of elders repeated in every discussion about us:

  • Photos of grinning old people who don't look all that old

  • Concentration on activities that are usually more suitable for second-grade recess period

Crabby Old Lady is not saying crossword puzzles, quilting and Pokeno are not perfectly fine pastimes in their place. But she finds it demeaning that what are, undoubtedly, well-meaning efforts to include elders are always about light entertainment and provide nothing that can be defined as the AOA's own call for elders to be “engaged, active and involved in their own lives and in their communities.”

And just to be clear, Crabby's complaint about all this has nothing to do with the thousands of local social workers nationwide who do amazing work helping elders against sometimes astronomical odds no small part of which is constant cutbacks in federal and local funding.

What Crabby Old Lady objects to is this belittling of old people with empty "honoring." Crabby does not want to be honored, especially with such a pandering title as “honored citizen” that nobody believes in anyway.

Nor does she want a card - hand-made or store-bought – in “honor” of someone else's donation.

She does not want an afternoon of games one day a year and to be ignored for the other 11 months.

Crabby wants inclusion for elders in daily life every day of the year.

There is so much that needs doing for elders that would help them take part in the life of their communities - that would help everyone else too. Such as:

  • Improve public transportation

  • Enforce age discrimination in the workplace laws

  • Encourage better geriatric education for physicians

  • Invite elders onto the citizen advisory boards of cities and towns

  • Create opportunities to serve that make use of elders' decades of experience and knowledge

  • Teach elders how to effectively lobby government officials

Most of all, stop Congress from scaring the crap out of elders with constant threats to cut or kill Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Working on these issues would be real honoring of elders.

February is Black History Month and every year, there are hundreds of activities that involve poetry, music, science, politics, military, entertainment, lectures, book signings, famous firsts, civil rights movements, biographies, exhibits and that doesn't begin to cover it all.

Lots of this information is on the television broadcasts we regularly watch and on the websites we visit every day and in special sections of book stores, for example. Black History Month is hard to miss and each year, Crabby learns more and more about the African American experience.

What Crabby Old Lady would be thrilled to see something similar for Older Americans Month. Now, THAT would be honor. After all, elders come in all colors and there is a lot more to know about us than games, greeting cards and demeaning euphemisms.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia Hirtz: Abraham


It's curious to me that in our country someone feels compelled to put a spin on everything including aging. That's a crock, too, Ronni! And anyway how can anyone younger tell elders what they need. What makes them think they have all the answers about being an elder or being older? Dumb........Dee

I can probably put up with "honored citizens" as long as public transit systems continue to offer what my partner's father always called the "old fart's discount." /Snark.

I don't like 'gifts' for anything I might choose to donate toward. I give the money for it to be put to the use I wanted not to giving back some meaningless trivia and that includes when it's political.

Agree with your comments, which are so aptly stated. Shared on FB.

I like to imagine a yearly Elder Hall of Fame award ceremony during a rich month of national elder recognition.

Aptly put. You have said it well. What about music? Music fests, concerts, coffee houses, anywhere the youngsters go we can go and have fun, what were once in our youth we still are in our elder. Take heed to this.

Hear, hear, Crabby!

Crabby, you made me laugh out loud with this post! The whole approach, although well-intended, does indeed seem silly, and worse - reinforces the idea that older people are somehow different, but not in a good way.

I don't want to be honored. I just want to be treated with respect.

Damn, Girl! So right.

I just tweeted your post. This stuff irritates the hell out of me, too. Reminds me of the social worker attached to my mother's hospice service who spoke to her as if she were a really dumb 3-year-old.

And let's not forget rock 'n roll, people! :) Many of us were THERE at Woodstock.
I hate this business of being consigned to the elder trash heap of youngsters' perceptions.
Honour indeed. Honour is an action, not an empty word.
I don't see much of it around any more. We need to make our own.

Dear Honored Citizen,

I am also an "Honored Citizen"
who has a strange foreboding feeling that someone is trying to "honor" me right out of my Social Security check and my Medicare benefits.

Just thinkin'. I mean, I'm thrilled to be Honored and all, but if they honor me any more I'll be eating cat food.

THANK YOU for addressing this issue so succinctly. We do not suddenly revert to infantile behaviour after reaching a certain age! We continue to take an active interest in all kinds of things, and many of us also continue in paid employment and/or volunteer work.

I would much rather have laws protecting my rights and acknowledgement of my abilities and talents than a card or a pat on the head. I would also appreciate accommodations for those of us who are not able to get around quite so nimbly as we once did.

I would suggest a spin-off of "Mad Men" set in 2012 with an older set of actors pitching ads on Madison Avenue. I think the tenor of the advertising would be a little more realistic, and it wouldn't all concentrate on hemorrhoids and faux happy time events.

My 89 year old friend up the street gives me smarter, every day advice than what the media puffs out.

Senior wish list?

Safer, cheaper public transportation, shorter hospital wait times, activities, education corresponding to intellectual capabilities.

and CATS.

We want CATS.

If not CATS,

Give us DOGS.

A Montreal Gazette article talks about seniors remaining on their jobs part time, and that there will be a big need for senior workers, therefore companies should be preparing for this trend.



Have you seen any job ads for seniors lately?

Does the Queen break dance?

Maybe this will cheer Crabby up: Poets and Writers just published this story about Jean Grau who volunteers a lot of her time to give poetry readings for seniors. Respecting their intellectual curiosity gives her a special sense of usefulness. Full article is posted online:

It's fun to be visiting middle aged people, as I have been recently, and to note how pressured they feel by all the demands made on them and they way the young adults (maybe the most competitive generation ever) keep treading on their heels. It helps me to keep my perspective on this aging stuff.
We, those of us who are really old, have this Depression mentality and are always worried about our economic survival, with good reason. Nonetheless, we should not overlook the tremendous advantage we have of not having to push and shove for everything all the time. That's an aspect of being younger I don't miss at all. If people want to get all worked up about how I'm old or give me silly little prizes for the accomplishment of still being around, I figure that's their problem! They'll be old someday too.
I have really resisted "age appropriate" activities, I have got to say, especially those aimed at old women. But I have taken up ceramics at the Senior Center, as well as gentle yoga.

Honored Citizens?? Just for aging?

Sounds like how they give trophies out in Little League baseball to all teams, just because they got out and played.

Always thought that was false praise and encouraged mediocrity, even failure.

Honor is earned not simply for making it to a "ripe old age" but what you've done with your life all those years that has made a positive impact on a life or lives.

I hate it when older people are treated like children. In a January New Yorker, the poet Donald Hall writes of visiting the National Gallery of Art. A security guard he and his companion meet there later sees them coming out of the cafeteria:

"...he bends over to address me, wags his finger, smiles a grotesque smile and raises his voice to ask, 'Did we have a nice din-din?'"

Hall was in Washington to receive the National Medal of the Arts.

Yeah, a little respect would go a long way--as would recognition that older people are still. . .people. What a concept!

One respondent mentioned CATS. If anyone in the Seattle area wants a wonderful feline companion, I volunteer for a no-kill cat rescue organization that would be more than happy to oblige. We have older kitties who need loving homes (and younger ones, too).

What is respectful about lumping us all into a ginormous stereotype?

I am attending college, and I know that there are other people in our age group that are students too. I'm not ready to settle down to a life filled with crossword puzzles and I doubt they are either.

If someone is going to "honor elders" doesn't it make sense that they would at least notice our diversity?

I can't help thinking that this, like so many other things in the public discourse today--like tempests about eating dog meat in Indonesia and dogs riding on car tops--are smoke and mirrors to distract us from the real, vital issues.

Crabby is in especially good form here -- I couldn't agree more.

Anyone working in a professional position to interact with elders should lose their job if they haven't learned to use appropriate language that doesn't talk down in a way that is demeaning to all of us. Learning that communication approach is, or should be, basic 101 in any training program.

I like the comparison to how African American's February "honoring" is conducted. Equally educating and respectful programs would be much more appropriate and appreciated by and for this elder.

"Honored citizen" - barf! barf! is right.

What I also dislike is that most of the Sr. Citizen (as we're still called here, which is second best to the "Honored" thing) senior center programs are in the day time. One of the few night classes I found was a writer's group which I continue to enjoy -- dovetailed well with my taking up blogging, though I'm still the only blogger.
But with the adult education program cutbacks it was cancelled, so we meet in each others homes.

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