Combatting Ageism: How to be part of the solution
So here’s the story: Once upon a time we lived in a society where age was irrelevant; our elders were revered and respected . . . old age was admired, not feared. In this perfect, more civilized era where combatting ageism wasn’t even a thing, older workers passed down their skills to the young, and continued to do so as long as they were willing and able. They weren’t pushed out of their jobs into early, unwanted retirement, they were never overlooked for promotion in favour of 20 and 30-somethings with more energy and less experience, and when companies were looking for innovate new ideas they always went to their senior employees first.
It was a wonderful time. There were unicorns. And everybody lived happily ever after.
Unfortunately, the people who lived back in those halcyon days aren’t around at the moment to tell us what a paradise it was for the elderly. Just think of it: no pensions, no health benefits, no social welfare programs … and all those lovely workhouses waiting to take you in when you were too sick to work any more and couldn’t afford to eat.
The Facts of Ageism
The truth is that nobody has ever liked getting old. Some of us deal with it better than others – either through good planning, a good attitude, or good genes. But most of us would really prefer to be just a little younger. “Old age is 15 years older than I am.” Oliver Wendell Holmes said that and isn’t it the truth! When I was 50, old age was 65. Now that I’m in my 60s, I think old age is really closer to 75 – or 80. And I’m sure I’ll keep raising the bar the older I get. Why not? It’s my bar, I can do what I like with it.
But while we boomers may still feel young and perky, the rest of the world might not see it that way. In a survey by CARP – Canada’s Association for Retired Persons – 2/3 of the respondents reported being discriminated in one way or another, whether it was getting poor service at a restaurant or store, being made the butt of a joke, or failing to get a job or a promotion because of their age.
And women, as you might expect, reported experiencing ageism to a greater degree than men. My own particular gripe is with newspaper headlines that tell us “70-year-old grandmother hit by a car.” Have you ever seen one about a 70-year-old grandfather? And, unless it was actually one of her grandchildren behind the wheel, does it even matter?
But I digress. Ageism – discriminating against people because of their age – is not a good thing: it lumps people into stereotypes, and, at the darkest end of the spectrum, it allows vulnerable people to be physically and verbally mistreated because they are old. It diminishes them. And right now a lot of people out there are feeling pretty diminished. Age discrimination suits in the US have gone up by almost thirty per cent, and in Britain, where 1600 workers are being made redundant every day, the older, better paid employees are the ones at greatest risk of getting sacked.
The difference between what happened in the past and what’s happening now is that now it’s happening to us – the generation that was never going to get old – the ones that were warned not to trust anybody over thirty. It’s a little karma biting us in the butt, and we really don’t like it.
Combatting Ageism is a Two Way Street
But it works both ways. How many times have you looked at the “kid” driving the bus or about to drill holes in your teeth, and wondered if he or she is old enough to have a license? Or told someone you don’t a) go to the movies, b) go to restaurants, or c) listen to the radio anymore because a) the movies are made for kids, b) the restaurants are too noisy and c) there haven’t been any good songs written since 1973.
Even if you’re doing your best not to become a crotchety old coot, it’s a challenge to keep doing what you did 30 years ago with the same zeal, energy and enthusiasm you once had. When I consider the jobs I took on in my 20s and 30s – how hard I worked and what I was paid – I just don’t think I’d be willing to work that hard again for that kind of money.
Most of the women I know who are still working full time would kill for a 4-day week – 3 days would be even better but that’s not going to happen. Are they lazy? No, but they’re tired. They’ve spent years juggling kids, soccer practice, school deadlines, and work, and what they’d like at this point is a little breathing space. A little time to stop and smell the roses, and maybe even pick a few.
Which is why it gets complicated when you start using the A word. Because although you don’t want to be treated like a doddering old fool, you also don’t want to be treated like a kid.
4 Helpful Tips for Combatting Ageism:
1. Work hard at keeping your skills up to date, attend workshops, and be a mentor to younger workers.
2. Don’t gripe if you’re asked to do something you think is beneath you, and remember to smile.
3. If you’re job hunting, tighten up your resumé. You may have been working since Eisenhower left office – or feel that you have – but there’s no need to advertise the fact. Keep it to a page – two at the most – and keep it focused on your skills, not your age.
4. Remember, you’re never too old to learn something new – or to branch into a new field of endeavour. Henri Rousseau was 49 when he quit his job as a tax collector to paint full time. Raymond Chandler published his first novel at 51. And Colonel Sanders began his chicken franchise when he was in his sixties.
As Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
For more posts like this check the book 60 Is The New 20, by Margie Taylor – a tongue-in-cheek guide to getting old in the age of Ageism. The book is available in print and E-book format.