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.