Revealing that I’m eighty-years-old makes this one of the toughest blogs I’ve written. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Just as one’s sexual identity or race or economic status shouldn’t evoke raised eyebrows or muffled comments, neither should one’s age.
For years I dreaded mentioning my age. If someone found out, I’d hear one of those inevitable comments: “I had no idea. I thought you were 65 or 70.” Or, “I hope I look like you when I’m your age.” Or, “You look REMARKABLE (hate that word) for your age.” So-called compliments may sound positive, but they’re negative because they betray an ageist stereotype in the speaker’s mind.
I’m active in several nonprofits including a Jewish congregation that I founded. I bike 25-30 miles on a good weekend. With my co-mediator, Carolyn Parr, we have written a book due to be published next January.
Despite that, ageism has infected my thinking: At meetings and social gatherings or when mediating, I wonder whether people view me as someone who should be “out to pasture” or speculate how old am I. If I speak up, I question whether people are listening out of duty or respect. I try not to care, but my antennae are on high alert.
I’m told I appear young for my age. I have been blessed with relatively good health and so far a fairly agile mind. I have no idea how long that will last. Despite that, age has etched its telltale lines into my visage.
Here’s what I see as the paradox: A straight person will never experience what a gay or lesbian individual experiences when coming out. A white person can’t possibly grasp the indignities of racial discrimination. But sooner or later everyone grows old. They will likely lose all or part of their independence, their capacity to care for themselves, and perhaps their sense of self-worth. But consciously or not, they discriminate against their future selves. Why? Because, to paraphrase Stokely Carmichael: “Ageism is as American as apple pie.”
Let’s end worshiping at the Altar of Youth and drinking the elixir of “Forever Young.” If we tolerate elders rather than embrace them, dilute their potential, and view them through the lens of their infirmities, why should younger Americans expect anything different when their wrinkles appear, their gait slows, and they keep forgetting where they parked their car?
Has “Old” become the “New, New Black?” It doesn’t have to be. Let’s break out of the prison of our ageist mindset and escape the mental confinement of implicit bias.