Imagine this: Two cups, one containing sugar and the other containing sand. You pour the sugar into a large bowl. Then you carefully pour the sand on top. Next, you take a tweezers and pick up each grain, separating the sand and sugar back into their respective cups. How long do you think it would take you to complete the task?
A very long time, I would suspect.
Now imagine a second scenario: Same two cups of the same ingredients, poured into the same bowl, except this time you stir the ingredients together very aggressively. Then you try to separate the grains of sand and sugar using that same tweezers. How long do you think it would take you to complete this unfathomably difficult task?
An interminably long time.
This metaphor can be applied to tackling the insidious injustice of ageism. Here’s how.
Let’s consider those two types of grains –– sugar and sand –– as two specific populations. There are the “productive” young adults and middle-agers, and there are the “unproductive” children, teens, and older adults. By maintaining cultural ageist attitudes toward these latter three groups, we keep them from fully integrating into the rest of society. And like those grains of sand sitting atop the granules of sugar, they are easier to identify and remove from our policy-making, civic engagement, and even public discourse.
But what if we adopt the realistic idea that someone’s age should have very little to do with accessing opportunities to participate and grow? What if we re-examine how we evaluate age-appropriate behaviors and we actively “stir up” our collective culture to allow greater integration of different ages in common activities? What if we purposely foster intergenerational communication and relationships in our schools, workplaces, recreation areas, and long-term-care settings?
Once populations of all ages are interspersed and exposed to one another on a more regular and widespread basis, it will be next to impossible for us to go back to embracing our discriminatory beliefs and practices. No tweezers of time would be able to separate us, each a grain, embodying our own truth while living in an interdependent, age-affirming society.
Stirring things up in this way is a task well worth the effort –– no matter how long it takes.
AGNG 320- Erickson School says
Hello, I am a student enrolled in AGNG 320 at the Erickson school of Aging. This article resonates with me. Throughout our course, the concept of ageism is discussed at length and the adverse effects that it has on our aging population. The idea of promoting an “age-affirming society,” instead of ageist, separative society, is a concept that is empowering for all. Individuals of all ages gathering together for one common purpose (whether it be for work or for play) allows all to bring out the best in one another. If this concept were in place now, it would show young children that teenagers, middle aged adults and older adults are no different than they are. These children would then grow up forming “age-affirming” views of their elders. This would then form a ripple effect (in a sense) throughout the rest of their lives. For example, as they became adults, they would influence policy, community activities, and work environments with age affirmation in mind. Where as someone who grew up in a society promoting ageism, may not think about how policy, community decision, and different work environments effects children, teens, and older adults simply because, as the article suggest, “these populations are forgotten about.”
Susan Macaulay says
Great post, thanks and for example:
Joe Wasylyk says
I agree that we should have an age-affirming society. One question is- How would it be possible to “stir up” our collective culture to allow integration of different ages in common activities? To get started I suggest two ideas that could work in our society today. Number one which could hold the key to this process is instead of having seniors transition from their corporate jobs to a ‘pasture land’ before their time, we need to form new independent age-friendly discussion groups to give seniors an opportunity to discuss their OWN real possibilities for retirement and/ or non-retirement activities.
The second idea is to have seniors gradually transition from their segregated senior centers and other similar organizations to lifelong learning (local libraries) and other community centers. This should give seniors that special sparkle and enthusiasm to make them more important, less isolated, and more socially acceptable. And, if we encourage seniors to learn more about financial literacy, digital literacy and small business it could lead to more seniors being economically significant and less of a burden on government based social security programs. Finally, more health & wellness programs for seniors available in the local communities could also reduce the overwhelming healthcare costs.
Diane Dahli says
Lovely post, Jeanette, with some good ideas about how to re-integrate older people into a more involved section of society. It seems that the impossible task you mention might be easier than overcoming the injustice of ageism!