This summer, my husband and I had the opportunity to spend individual time with three of our grandsons. Each boy stayed with us for a couple of activity-filled days. Our special guests were 7, 9, and 9; yes, the last two grandchildren to visit are twins. When one of our neighbors asked the last to visit if he was an identical twin, he said, “We aren’t identical. In fact, we couldn’t be more different.” His point applies to everyone: See each of us as the unique individuals we really are; don’t make stereotypical assumptions.
Each Younger Person is a Unique Individual
Spending time with our grandsons helped us to recognize and appreciate their individual interests. But we were also able to see them as interesting people who had their own ideas and knowledge that they were willing to share. One grandson suggested a way we could conserve more resources when watering hanging plants. The other grandson helped me improve my Spanish vocabulary. Imagine that—nine-year-old grandchildren teaching their grandparents. And why not?
Each Older Person is a Unique Individual
Younger people don’t like to be dismissed based on stereotypical assumptions. The same is true for older adults. We’re not just “old people.” Instead, we’re unique individuals with different interests, attitudes, and abilities.
Some people in their sixties and beyond are very comfortable with technology. I had a former colleague in his sixties who happens to be a leading expert on cybersecurity. Some older adults have only a limited knowledge of cybersecurity issues. In fact, many younger people don’t know much about cybersecurity and how vulnerable they really are.
Some people in their sixties and beyond may have two or more chronic health problems. Others may have no significant health issues. Some older people may have the energy and stamina to climb mountains while others may only have enough energy to walk around the block.
Creating Opportunities to Break Down Stereotypes
When our seven-year-old grandson was visiting, he asked me why we had moved 2 ½ hours away. I told him that moving to a rural area gave me the opportunity I wanted. I also told him that after I turned 50, it was hard to get the job I wanted while living in Portland because people thought I was too old. He said, “Grandma, that isn’t fair!” He was right. But he’s my grandson and doesn’t see me as ‘too old’ to do things that I want to do.
When we get to know people, we can see their individual uniqueness and potential. That is why I believe it is so important for all of us to create connections with younger people in our families, in our communities, and beyond.
The years that I did teach at a community college helped me realize that there are a lot of very capable, caring younger people who are willing and able to help make the world a better place. At the same time, I had the opportunity to demonstrate that older people can also make a difference and stay engaged in life.