ELDER MUSIC: Musicals Part 2
Green Burial

The Language of Age

A couple of days ago a friend of many years, a smart and talented fellow, sent me this image.

Thinking Old

It gives me a good reason to talk once again about language, the everyday, knee-jerk, unthinking language of age that demeans old people.

When that image arrived, I replied to my friend thusly:

"I don't understand what is wrong with thinking old. I have nearly eight decades of experience. I'm old. I've learned a lot. I certainly hope I'm thinking old."

Let me explain further.

If old people were not universally excluded in all kinds of ways from participation in work, political life, clinical medical trials, among many, many other activities of life while also made invisible; if the word “old” were not, with the exception of antiques, always a negative; if old people were not mocked both for NOT acting their age and FOR acting their age, THEN that phrase and image would be acceptable.

Except, if elders were as respected as people in all other stages of life, there would be no reason for that image and text to exist – it would not have occurred to anyone.

That goes for the phrase “young at heart” too. As with one's mind, what is wrong with an old heart? By the time a person is old, their heart has gone way beyond the classic loved and lost a few times.

You and I have all been heart-broken, heavy-hearted, open-hearted, good- and kind-hearted, big-hearted, light-hearted, soft-hearted, sometimes cold-hearted and even lion-hearted.

With all that, why would anyone think a young heart is better than an old one? Why would society exalt young hearts at the expense of such learned and experienced ones?

Yet that is what happens every time such phrases are repeated.

As all advertisers know, repetition works. We have heard these phrases – young at heart, (don't) think old, and many others that malign elders – since we were children. They are so deeply embedded in our collective psyche as fact that they even infect presidential election politics.

If negative stereotypes were not automatically attached to people older than 60, even 50 in many cases, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would not be painted with the “too old” brush as Senator Marco Rubio and others are using as a major campaign tactic.

I understand why people, even old ones, throw around “young at heart” phrases and email images admonishing people to not think old. After a lifetime of hearing them without refutation, they sound like compliments.

They are not and language matters lest it be twisted into Orwellian doublespeak. There is nothing wrong with old minds and hearts.


You are preaching to the choir this morning, Ronni.
Thank you for such a well-stated reminder to us all that language and attitude matter.

Aging is a time of life, not a disease, not something to be ashamed of, to be covered up, to be replaced with false bravado. WE ARE OLD and PROUD and I, for one, wear "old" as a badge of honor.

I get the most guff from those older than I when I say I am old, I get: "You're not old!" and of course, they mean relative to their 95ness, which I respect.

The commercials showing elders performing athletic activities bother me the most. I salute those who are able to run marathons or sky dive but many of us are physically unable to do those things and probably wouldn't if we could. Anyway, preach on, sister!

I've never seen this put so well. Bravo!

Florence, I agree with you. Too many things that I can't do these days, like walk. I think there is a fine line between praising people who have done something "wonderful for them" and making others feel badly.

I know I am over sensitive. I miss walking and standing more that 3 minutes.

I agree with your post & the comments from my special elder friends. However, it brought to mind the many times I've heard the phrase "she/he is an old soul" which I've always heard as a compliment.........so IMO, there is that to ponder, as well. :)Dee

What Hattie said.

There is nothing wrong with old minds and hearts as long as they are open to the inevitability of things changing so that they accept that some attitudes become obsolete. There are "youthful" attributes that we elders need to hold onto -- and one of these is not to be seriously judgemental and set in our ways. Every generation contributes something of value to the culture,and that's what we need to make a bigger deal of. We need to hold onto that "inner child" as we get older, and that's what I think that image means.

You have hit on one of the few positive uses of the world "old." The thing about the phrase "old soul" is that it applies to people (so few as to be nearly non-existent) of all ages.

The two old souls I've known in my life were in their 20s when I met them and they were definitely old souls then.

Old soul is the rare instance where it is universally understood that to have one is good.

Wonderful and important post. I've stopped reading the AARP newsletters because of the perpetual articles on denying our age and the realities of aging - there is much that is rich and rewarding in the aging process.
Have been reading The Art of Aging: Celebrating the Authentic Aging Self by Alice and Richard Matzkin - highly recommend this book...

I like my "old" thinking ... much less rigid, much more tolerant, much more sympathetic and even empathetic.
Thanks for keeping us on track, Ronni.

How to change the language of age by commanding respect.

I have always heard that marketing always goes after whoever spends the money.

We obviously are not spending enough --even though it is said we are a large segment of the population.

So-- voting and power through numbers if we could hold together?

We could add time to that fight, too. We have plenty of that. Are we too lazy? Too worn down? Too passive?

Organized is the only way to win and why are not doing that? I do think we slowed down the TPP because of the medicare or medicaid part slipped into the bill and that was outed.

Only by being "a force to reckon with" will bring about the respect and power we would like to share.

I 'm trying out the word, "modern." That refers in no way to my age. Just to a capacity I hope to keep in which I remain open to new ideas. It isn't the opposite of "old-fashioned," either, which can be a good thing when it refers to manners, fabric, and cooking techniques.

I'm going to share this on our Facebook page. It is exactly what our organization is trying do. We are currently considering a name change from "Senior Services" but are having such a challenge in finding other words that resonate positively.

That was so well said.
Ronni, the world needs you to write a Sunday op-ed for a major newspaper, every week.

I wouldn't mind if my body was young again, but I'd never want to be mentally young again. I might be falling apart physically, and my memory is becoming rather patchy, but I like who I am now better than any time in the past.

For the past few years, I've been trying to reboot my perceptions of older adults as elders. This is how they are termed by the American Indian tribal people where I live. Elders are those over 50, and most of them are seen as possessing wisdom earned from those years of life. Elders are revered, served first at community meals, asked for their views, and treated with utmost respect.

Although I don't like much of anything Ronald Reagan said there is one quote that I like very much.

When he was queried about being too old to be president his reply was, "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience."

On the other hand, I do get tired of those who spend a lot of time reminiscing about Jack Benny, Dean Martin, etc., and fail to appreciate anything new.

This was an amazing article with lots of true wise words. Wisdom comes with age. It was good to read your powerful comments!

Victoria, we ARE a force to be reckoned with. We are the segment who votes the most, and over 50% of us are extremely conservative.

And Elaine, I took that image to mean just what you said.

My pet "Old" peeve is when some young teller or clerk with a smarmy smile on his/her face greets me with, "How can I help you today, young lady?"

My response to him/her is, "I am obviously not "young" and calling me a lady is questionable too!"

I am with Hattie!

Great post!

I'm with Miki on the "young lady" thing--I really, REALLY don't like it--but I do like her rejoinder! I also like Lisa's use of the term "modern" (indicating up-to-date). It's so discouraging to follow the behavior of many older Americans who are NOT up to date and continue to live in a '50s world that never was.

Many 65+ overwhelmingly support Republican positions. They trash the Affordable Care Act while benefiting from their own government-subsidized healthcare; they vote for politicians who cut food stamps and housing for low- income Americans. Do they not realize that wealthy right-wing Repubs, who can now pay cash to elect almost any official they wish, view retirees (that's US!) as "takers" and are chomping at the bit to gut Social Security as well? We are voting against ourselves in massive numbers!

Maybe people wouldn't fight getting "old" if it weren't associated with so many negatives, mostly societal and stereotypical but some actual, such as loss of one's employment, relatives/friends, physical abilities and appearance. I won't live to see our youth-obsessed culture change, but I hope that some day it will. How much better it would be if elder-hood could be based on the Native American model cited by Rin Porter. Until then, "old" won't be a respected, valued or desirable place for many of us.

So well said. Thank you and all the commentors again for bringing up this old issue. I have always wanted to be old, to have that soft skin and wrinkly smile. And especially to get to the age when I can allow myself to relax and do nothing. All good things come with time.

And I won't let some blithering young fool take that away from me. Hah.

think smart.

I'm with Ronni on the need for respect for elders. But Elizabeth has a good point and Lauren's stat is rather alarming. Maybe elders aren't always such good role models, since it's true that they are too often the nay-sayers when it comes to social change, e.g. integration, sexual mores, gay marriage; except when change benefits them, things like Social Security and even senior discounts.

Maybe elders could earn more respect if they joined wholeheartedly in the fight for free college education, more funding for pre-school and for arts in education, equality of job opportunity, a more financially balanced economy, support for diversity in the definition of families, and much more that old people (not our beloved "elders") are inclined to view with alarm and vote against at every opportunity.

What Jim and Laura said.

To me the term means keeping up with what is going on the in world today. I don't think "young", but I have an appreciation for all the changes and new technology happening every day. I like to be int he know. It's my ever curious nature that makes life a vastly interesting place for me.

One is damn lucky to get old, my Mother died when she was young and I was a wee one..All my life I never had a mother until I was almost 18 and a loving woman who never had kids helped me out, I never forgot her and she became the Mom I never had she was I think almost 69 and so upset losing her husband of almost 52 years and no family lost all her family the same year as her husband in 1964! I feel she really let me know how to look, feel and love well into her 90's she lived to be about 100 but to me she was always this glamorous newspaper lady, smart as a whip graduated from college when she was 16 and worked from a wealthy family no less to go to college her dad never thought women should go to the university she did, newspaper lady and knew when people lied, cheated and stole..I learned plenty from her..My mother in law on the other hand had about 10 kids I think 2 passed young, one husband she never divorced he ran away everytime they had another child, never supported her no food money, nothing, but when he was dying we heard from him, he only lasted til 74 she made it until nearly 87, her son who is mentally challenged was her reason, she smoked like a smokestack her entire life from 16 on, she could have bought several homes with the money she spent on those cigarettes, I saw plenty..Now I am 67 and I think the way youngsters think of older people is really ridiculous indeed, why do people think all people past 60 are dumb and stupid about everything and most don't teach their children any manners whatsoever! I don't attend weddings and never send a gift because most brides and grooms don't know how to pick up a pen and write a thank you note, and for that matter not many adults do either, rude and more rude, so I just skip it completely..Our only knows how to behave we made her write tiny thank you notes when she was a wee one, she never complained, she could not play with the toys or gifts given if she did not, she knows the words PLENTY, ENOUGH AND THANK YOU VERY MUCH..she is much happier than people who were never taught manners, yes she is..I am so pissed how the young in our society are never taught any manners and as I get older some grown adults too!

I was so taken with this article that I read it aloud to my memoir writing group, The Silver Pens, 8 women aged 70 to 89, then asked them to write a response. As always, their writings were varied and different from each others.' We read them, then talked over our papers and could have gone on for hours.

I love an old mind and an old heart. As a not-so-old lady, I've always been fascinated by the storytelling and wisdom of the elders around me. I wanted to glean from the treasure of their lives to walk away with some that enhanced my own. Hooray for old mind and hearts!

I hate to be the worm in the apple so often, but I feel compelled to say, again, there is not a lot of we in the "we" when it comes to elders. For every elder who has a world view that encompasses social change, new technology, ecological concerns and the many other things we on TGB seem to hold dear, there is another old fart out there who doesn't mind that ad one bit and feels like he is living it himself as he puts on his plaids and plays golf at a restricted gold club. For every elder deserving of the respect accorded a role model, there is an old lady who lunches and is mostly concerned about how her new makeup makes her look younger. For every elder who has wisdom to spread around, there is a cranky old person who hates the noise of children playing and has absolutely no interest in the youth who need her advice and support.

What we should be doing maybe is missionary work among our own people, spreading our wisdom and our values among all the old folks who are working as hard as they can to live up to the stereotypes. That would be one way of abolishing them.

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