I am seriously thinking about lying about my age. Of course it’s impossible. The internet has my age engraved in perpetuity.
I notice the difference immediately after my most casual face-to-face social revelation of the “number” – even if it is merely a reminder to my friends and my children. The change in expression is immediate, and the processing in the receiver’s brain, while subliminal, is obvious.
In a flash I have changed my status from respectful and collegial and transformed it suddenly to “over the hill,” someone to be tolerated, politely and diplomatically endured but no longer consequential. The reaction is typical and understandable. It is built into the life cycle, a generational flaw that carries few exceptions. It is hard to reeducate people to the notion that humans are not like socks, where one size fits all.
What I have begun to realize and which has motivated me to write this screed is that, whether deserved or not, one’s number reveals one’s category and my category and those of my peers sends the message of “tolerate but irrelevant.” It is a form of bias that closes the door on the wisdom that only first hand experience can convey.
The fact is that my “number” and upwards is shared by many people who are still very much involved, active participants in busy and arguably important human endeavors. We may be merely statistical survivors but we are still out there, a senior cadre of wisdom and experience that cannot and must not be consigned to the rubbish bin of contemporary history. We are still climbing the hill and are not yet at the summit heading downward.
We have witnessed the good and bad choices by politicians, journalists, academics, and various leaders in numerous other occupations that collude to create our culture. We have observed their many follies and their successes, have walked through the mountains of corpses of the last century, the stupidities of unworkable ideologies, and have seen the glories of science that have vastly improved our health, longevity and lifestyles.
In the U.S, there are six million in the number category of which I speak. Admittedly some of that group are incapacitated physically and mentally. But there are millions still in heavy involvement in contemporary life, contributing their experience, insight, imagination and creativity to make positive change in society.
There may be skeptics out there who believe I am offering conclusions based on narrow personal experience but I am willing to bet the barn there are millions out there who will testify that I am not alone in my assessment.
I am as active in my career as ever. My daily writing habits have not changed. I continue to write my novels, plays, poems and essays and do what writers do which is to conjure ideas, fashion them into stories and generally communicate the results to potential readers.
I do confess that I am not as agile or as flexible as when I was a 23 year old soldier in the Korean War or as formidable as I used to be in other areas requiring more extreme physicality but I have not yet reduced my twice a week pilates exercises and can still claim a robust level in my fantasy life.
Nevertheless when I do honestly reveal my “number” to an inquisitive stranger, especially those of a younger demographic, I note an instant revision of their attitude and I am instantly reminded about every cliché about ageism that afflicts the culture from Charles Dickens’ “aged P” character in Great Expectations to the real life possibility of bureaucrats deciding end of life options.
Aged P, for those who don’t recall this wonderful masterpiece by Dickens, was the father of John Wemmick who instructs Pip how to socialize with his aged father “Nod away at him Mr. Pip, Nod away at him if you please. That’s what he likes, like winking.”
Consider what can be learned from someone who has lived through the better part of the twentieth-century and on into the twenty-first, a witness to events that would seem to a millennial as beyond imagining. Indeed everything that has occurred in the long lifetime my number implies and having seen with my own eyes the ups and downs of the past offers lessons too invaluable to be dismissed on the basis of “tolerate but irrelevant.”
To throw that demographic of which I am a proud and lucky member on the rubbish heap of irrelevance is a critical mistake. Technology may radically change many things but personally witnessed and lived through experience tells us that human nature, however we manipulate and extend life, however we attempt to change the rules of human engagement, however much we destroy and, hopefully rejuvenate our environment, however long our planet can remain populated by the human animal, our basic nature with all its contradictions and propensity for good or evil will remain the same imperfect specimen.
I can hope only that this message resonates beyond the periphery of the words in this issue. Instead of “tolerate but irrelevant” perhaps those who bear my number and beyond should be regarded with the frame of “listen, consider, and learn.”
Oh yes, my category. I was born seven months after “Lucky Lindy” made his solo flight over the Atlantic to Paris. It was a helluva year. You do the math.
Hello, I am an Aging 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging. I was born in a Middle Eastern culture where old people are highly valued for their wisdom. Your writing career is marvelous explaining to me how you have used your wisdom to commune and bridge generation gap between you and the young generation. You are reminding me with W. B. Yeast’s “Sailing to Byzantium” in which the sailor acquires more wisdom while advancing in age. It is not your problem that the young generation is incapable of seeing the values and the meaning of your life experience.
I find all the excuse for you to keep your age as a secret you wouldn’t like to disclose and I blame it on the technology of the information revolution for breaching your privacy. I say to those who discriminate against you on age-basis that if they are lucky enough to reach your age, they will then have to imagine how their stance would be like. You are to be celebrated rather than ridiculed!
Hello, I am an AGNG 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging. I really enjoyed reading your article and I completely agree with your statement. In the society which we live in, it has become a commonality to make assumptions and stereotype elders. It is unfair to categorize an entire age rang to be incapable of many things. With age comes wisdom and the older you are in age, the more experiences one has with the struggles of life. As we discuss aging in my AGNG 200 class, we learned that many unnecessary stereotypes exist when talking about elders. The material in the class defends the wisdom and intelligence of elders by stating how aging adults are capable of doing the same activities as they were when they were younger. They are able to participate in the same mental and physical hobbies/activities and maintain the same life habits. Elders refute the stereotypes that accompany ageism by continuously staying active mentally and physically, and being able to learn new information. The stereotype of elders being frail and incapable is very wrong as aging adults maintain their abilities. It is occurring to think of elders as irrelevant or unnecessary since the youth believes they are “too old” for societal norms, yet they do not understand that perhaps elders understand the most because they remain active and have the longest life experiences. Through their life personal life experiences, elders are able to understand situations more clearly and they offer more wisdom that can be crucial information to the youth.
Hello, I am an Aging 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging. Words in your article were reminded me how incredible elders could be! I was born in 90th in Russia, and I remembered since my childhood that people around me always considered old person as someone who inspire young generations, who support them, share his/her experience, and often can tell different incredible and interesting stories about the past time. Now, looking at relationships between nowadays children and teenagers and elders, I am agree with your opinion: “Indeed everything that has occurred in the long lifetime my number implies and having seen with my own eyes the ups and downs of the past offers lessons too invaluable to be dismissed on the basis of “tolerate but irrelevant.” There was a question in my mind, when this moment of total changed attitude toward old generation had occurred? Probably, the answer is in the people’s desire to work against the human nature. More and more individuals are involved into the world with no rules of human engagement and spiritual content of relationship. This I have seen in your article as well, and I am agree with it. Society pretend to live with missing the “natural life span” concept, which means understanding of human needs and possibilities through simple life afford such as experience of love, beauty, family, and the pursuit of moral ideals. It is hard for me see this, because I am always remember my own experience of relationship with grandparents as one of the coziest and warmest one! I hope, it will be not too late to change the situation above, and people will feel again how affordable meetings with elders can be!
I’m an AGNG 200 student at the Erikson School of Aging. I very much enjoyed reading your blog and I must say that I agree with what you wrote. I don’t believe that one should be treated differently merely because of one’s age. As I have learned in my AGNG class, being “old” doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not capable of learning new things as well as teaching. As the textbook states, older people have much wisdom and are no different than anyone else. As the saying goes, “age is nothing but a number” and I believe that to be true. Older people have the capability to contribute to society as much as any younger person.
Hello, I am an Aging 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging. I believe that age should not play a factor in how society treats you, but unfortunately it is the reality of contemporary society. While being a millennial myself I find that old people offer wisdom, insight, and other significant attributes to society that others cannot provide. On that note, many millennials probably feel this way as well. I feel that it is the population who is in-between the old age generation and the millennials. In my Aging 200 class, we have discussed and read about how there is a stigma towards aging people as well as old people. Many people believe that just because a person is not always as physically capable they must not be as mentally capable as they used to be. However, this is obviously not true. You have emphasized and my aging textbook has emphasized, people are just as mentally capable as they were when they were younger. Unfortunately, society does not classify old people as people of significant contribution to everyday life or society. I think that the cause of the stigma towards aging people is the portrayal of the aging population from our young pop culture and media. While I do agree that young people do not always value the aging population, the aging population is still a very capable group of people who are in fact mentally and sometimes physically capable of continuing their old habits, recreational activities, or their job they experienced in their youth.
Warren Adler says
Hi Pickles. Thanks for commenting on my article. I was quite impressed, never realizing that people were actually studying aging and all its ramifications. As a participant in the aging process (88 in two months) I will keep in touch and learn what is going on in the academic world. Thanks again. Warren
Often people tell me I look great for my age (a common, patronizing phrase one hears often), which I hate, resent, resist. My stock reply: “This is what this age looks like!”
Leacey Brown says
As a young person and a gerontologist, the negative views on aging span the whole age spectrum. I have witnessed ageist comments of people who are on the cusp of being “old”. The comments are in the realm of they can’t remember something so they mention they are showing their age. Of course the crowd laughs. The joke isn’t funny. It makes my skin crawl when I see people show deep misunderstandings of the aging process. I think it will be a long uphill battle to change widely held view that aging equals disease and decline. I am hopeful the boomer generation will help silence some of these misconceptions.
We need to send the message sooner to younger people and start challenging their attitudes towards ageing. We are all in this together. A recent Mercer Uk report on challenges in the workplace shows that company’s biggest concern is on talent retention and attrition – clearly indicating nothing replaces experience.
The real message here is that people past retirement age should be a valuable resource for society. Those “seniors” have a vast amount of wisdom to impart and should not be relegated to the scrap heap of irrelevance. Young people have scant years of experience. They have awareness of only a few years of history. They know only the status quo and tend to think the world began when they personally became aware of it. That perspective is bound to lead to a repetition of historical mistakes. But, seniors have a responsibility, also, to actively advocate their wisdom. Hiding in retirement is a cop out. We need more voices like Warren’s to champion the idea that older is better and to cultivate a society in which elders are revered as respected advisors.
Warren Adler says
You got it right, my friend. Your comment warmed my heart. A still working brain is a gift and should be contributing to hopefully get our culture back on track. Best, -Warren
Florence Klein says
Let’s just LIE and confound the “young ones” with our vitality, wisdom & experience!!!
Spring Texan says
It’s unfortunate, but lying may be the best course of action here. Shouldn’t be necessary, but probably is!
I don’t think anyone needs to “confront” ageism when they can avoid it. Best of all is to both confront (by writing the column) and to avoid (by lying on an ad hoc basis).
How much of the negative perception of aging is the result of stereotyping, fear and bias? A lot I suspect. How much is inevitable? As much as we permit.
Dr. Bill Thomas says
Because ageism impacts everyone, we all need to confront it