The Day of Old Folks

Unlike other prejudices such as racism and sexism (…) ageism is unique in targeting our future selves

Caroline Baum, The Guardian

Do you remember a famous “Little Prince” story by Saint Exupery, and writer’s dedication of the book to all grown-ups who were once children – although few of them remember. Similarly to this author, I dedicate this blog to all young people who will one day become older people, although many of them may not think about it yet.

I wanted to write a blog about older people before the end of this year, but the time has been disappearing, like sand slipping through my fingers. So today presented itself as good opportunity. I could master few paragraphs in the morning, and then few more in the afternoon, between massage therapy and evening out with few expats.

So, on October 1st , we have been celebrating the Day Of Older Person. Although this day had come and gone now, any day of the year is a good day to remind ourselves the importance of celebrating older people. It gives us an opportunity to learn about challenges older people face in or society, as a result of aging, and quick reminder that one day we all will join the crowd, providing we are lucky enough to live long life and enjoy good health.

In each young person, there is an older person, and in each old person, there is a young person. I don’t know when I heard this expression, but you get my point. If time was not linear, and everything happened at once, we would be experiencing all aspects of ourselves simultaneously. Well, I know it is not possible, maybe one day, just kidding, but time is a concept humans created and invented meaning what we do with it, when and how, depending on our stage in life.

Some people are old at 18, and some are young at 90. Time is a concept that humans created.

Yoko Ono

We all are unconsciously bias, whether we like to admit it or not. We gravitate towards those who are like us, most of the time. Young people don’t like older people, and older people complain about young people. Young people don’t realize yet, that one day they are also going to be old, and older folks may not remember they were once young.

When is it exactly that one becomes old? Visibly, there are life stages we go through. That’s how life happens: you are young, you are middle-aged, and then you are old. Although, no one likes to be called old, and it’s not a polite word to use, as it is unpleasant and defamatory.

In 2016 Marist Poll asked American adults if they believed a 65 year-old qualified as old, and the answers varied among different age groups. Those in the younger group 18-29 voted yes, but the older responders, voted no. The result of the survey revealed that 65 stands strong as middle-aged.

What we can observe here, is that our own perception about aging changes, as we travel through time. I recall a friendship in my early thirties with my tennis partner, she just turned fifty and was complaining to me about it, how she had hard time accepting the fact that she is fifty now. Thirty was ok, forty was fine, but fifty, no way, “I can’t be fifty”, Margaret protested. She also revealed to me, she needed to change her ways of relating to time, she didn’t want to look back to the past, she wanted to look forward to the future. But to my own mind, as thirty-three I once was, I was wondering what is there to look forward to at the age of fifty! Fast-forward to the present, I now know, there is plenty to look forward to, but I realize this depends on a person’s attitude, despite what age they are.

As in Yoko Ono’s famous quote, “you can be old at 18, and young at 90. What counts is your attitude towards life. Time is a concept we created, no one knows how much time one has left on earth. We all are visitors from the Great Beyond. Life is a mystery.

“Our lives are but specks of dust falling through the fingers of time. Like sands of the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

Socrates

The purpose of this blog is to examine our own attitudes towards old age, our perceptions of older people and society’s discrimination.

The term ageism comes in handy, and it’s worth examination. Ageism is a socially constructed concept, a way of thinking about older people based on negative attitudes and stereotypes involving aging. It reflects the tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, therefore failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older people. Ageism involves treating individuals in an unequal fashion because of their age, in a way that is contrary to human rights law.

When I write about the subject of ageism, two artists stood out in my own mind, that I am familiar with, who have been battling with ageism throughout their whole career, Yoko Ono and Madonna. Whether, you are a fan of these two artists or not, it is irrelevant to the subject of this blog, because both artists raise the same issue – ageism in our society.

Ono is one of the oldest artists with multidisciplinary career, who understands it very well society’s attitude towards age. In her open letter “Don’t Stop me” , she expresses her disappointment of society for not allowing her to be who she is, and points to the fact that the concept of “old person” it is society’s own creation. “I don’t want to be old and sick like many others of my age. Please don’t create another old person,” 

Let me be free. Let me be me! (…) I am giving tremendous energy with my voice, because that is me. Get my energy or shut up.

Yoko Ono

Yet a musician needn’t be over 80 to feel the sharp end of the ageism stick. Madonna has been at receiving end of it as well and has been often expressing her observations. In her interview with Decca Aitkenhead for Vogue, Madonna responds to the question: “People have always been trying to silence me for one reason or another, whether it’s that I’m not pretty enough, I don’t sing well enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not married enough, and now it’s that I’m not young enough,” she tells Aitkenhead. “So they just keep trying to find a hook to hang their beef about me being alive on. Now I’m fighting ageism, now I’m being punished for turning 60.”

Yoko Ono and Madonna have been battling ageism in the entertainment industry for many decades combined. Although ageism affects men and women, but in the music business it affects female artists disproportionately. Artists, like Madonna or Ono can use social platform to raise the issue of ageism in the society, but there are many barriers every day older people face that we are not aware of.

In every day life, older people face discrimination, violations of their rights at the family, community and institutional levels. Older people face very specific threats to their rights in relation to age discrimination. These threatened rights can include access to health care, employment, property and inheritance rights, access to information and education, and the ability to benefit from humanitarian responses. Older people also face specific forms of violence and abuse. They face particular rights in care settings and as caregivers themselves.

On that note, I recommend that you watch the UN’s YouTube video Change the Way You Think About Age! Centenarians Answer the Right Questions. In the video, you will meet the individuals who are over 100 years old and have been living their lives to the fullest, and thriving at their age, being grateful and happy just where they are in their life journey:

  1. Lilian Polak, 100 y.o. the oldest radical writer
  2. Madeline Scoto, 101 y.o. Math-B Teacher
  3. Ida Keeling, 100 y.o. oldest track and field sprinter
  4. Maude Pettus, 101 y.o. oldest nurse and world traveller,

Aging is a highly individual experience. It is not possible to generalize or assume anything about someone’s skills and abilities based on their age any more that it is possible to make assumptions about that person based on any other aspect of their identity. Everyone should be given the same opportunities and benefits, regardless of age. It is important to recognize that older people make significant contributions to our society and that we must not limit their potential.

Has this blog changed your perception about how you think about aging and what your own role and engagement in society will be when you reach that golden age? Please, share your thoughts in the comments below. Thank you.

Credit of the image at the front of the blog goes to: Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of the Artist's Mother at the age of 63.

More Resources On Ageism:
Ageism and age discrimination
Ageism - concept and Theories
The ugly truth about ageism: it's a prejudice targeting our future selves.

Inner Reflections

Published by Marianna Maliszewska

“I cannot live without love. Love is at the root of my being.”― Anaïs Nin.

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