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