Deadwood: Attitudes toward Older Adults
The World Health Organization reports that ageism – age discrimination and stereotyping is the most prevalent form of prejudice in the world today. It also reports that ageism has adverse effects on our health and well-being.
In the Public Domain: COVID-19 has peeled back long-held cultural attitudes about aging and older people. Even the Lt. Governor of Texas suggested that old people or “grandparents” wouldn’t mind sacrificing themselves for the good of the economy. Of course, we do know that older people in nursing homes and poorer people – particularly poorer people of color—have been hit hardest by the virus. What kind of a message was this elected official sending?
In the Workplace: Workers 50+ and especially women are losing jobs faster than younger people. Even before the COVD-19-induced economic downturn, research revealed that older workers (50+) were at a significant risk of being pushed out of their jobs before they intended to leave.
In Advertising: We live in a youth-centric culture that constantly sends the message that aging is bad. Creating fear around aging sells products. In 2018, the anti-aging industry was worth over 50.2 billion dollars globally and is growing. This demeaning advertising message is hurting everyone.
Think Like a Tree
Ironically, individuals 50+ living in the U.S. represent a fast-growing, significant segment of the population. Collectively, we also control the majority of the household wealth in our country. We are healthier, wealthier, and better educated than any generation before us. We’ve got plenty of power. It’s time that we use it.
We’ve got to quit buying into the negative stereotypes of aging. Aging is a normal, natural process. Many of us become happier, wiser, and more creative as we get older. If we need to visualize ourselves in a new way, then think like an old-growth tree.
Older trees can be powerful, towering, and strong. We’ve also got to see ourselves as strong and powerful. Stand tall. Walk and move within your community as someone who has valuable contributions to make. Use your body to create a sense of presence. Trees stretch out and take up space. We can also create space for ourselves. Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy gave one of the all-time most popular TED presentations when she talked about the value of creating presence by the way we used our bodies. Don’t allow yourself to become invisible – unless you choose to do so.
Old trees are beautiful trees – magnificent and splendid. Flaunt your signs of aging—your wrinkles and all the evidence you can proudly display that show that you know a thing or two having lived and learned. Don’t back down. Think like a tree and see yourself as magnificent and splendid as you age.
A Cultural Battle: We’re in a cultural battle right now for the dignity and respect of older people. We must find ways that we can collectively use our powers to fight discrimination and stereotyping. Find like-minded people who want to enjoy their lives to the fullest and care that others do as well.
If any elected official in your State makes disparaging remarks about older people or if they jeopardize the lives of nursing home residents by agreeing to loosen regulations, then we need to call these people out. We can write letters to the editor and to online media sources. We’ve got to let those who think they are in power that we will not put up with mistreatment or neglect based on age.
Collective Actions: Consider actions we can collectively make to change attitudes about aging. We can write letters to companies that use anti-aging messages to divide us. We can let lawmakers know that we won’t tolerate disrespect. We can speak up and talk about the joys of each stage of life. But we’ve got to engage in the fight – negative attitudes toward aging will not change until we use our powers to create that change.
We can encourage discussions about issues related to older employees in the workplace. We can also call out businesses and organizations that treat older workers unfairly; this may mean refusing to do business with some organizations – or even boycotting those businesses. But first, we need to get the facts and then take action, if appropriate.
We can refuse to buy creams, lotions, and other products that are promoted as “anti-aging” products. We can take our actions further by letting advertisers know that “anti-aging” language is demeaning.
Promote Positive Aging: We can promote examples of positive aging. We can write, speak, and talk to others about how we have the freedom to live our best lives as we move beyond fifty and the coming decades. We can find examples of others who are living their best lives. We’ve got to bust the myth that aging should be feared at all costs and that older people have declining value.
Engage the Next Generation: Finally, we can engage those under fifty to join us in the fight. Younger adults need to recognize that ageism has been going on for decades in this country. They too will be subject to inequitable treatment if they don’t help change the narrative.