The Ancient Practice of Ageism

A few years ago we had the opportunity to hear one of the industry’s leading experts on AGEISM, Ashton Applewhite, speak at a local conference. That talk started us thinking,really thinking, about how we have unknowingly & unwittingly practiced ageism. Yikes—we are in the business of working with “olders” and we were sometimes guilty of practicing seemingly acceptable, stereotypical behavior.

“Ageism” was coined in 1969, two years after the Federal Discrimination in Employment Act set forty as the lower bound at which workers could complain of it. The upper bound continues to rise: the average life span grew more in the twentieth century than in all previous millennia. By 2020, for the first time, there will be more people on Earth over the age of sixty-five than under the age of five. https://www.newyorker.com/ magazine/2017/11/20/why- ageism-never-gets-old

Ageism exists on many levels and manifests itself in a variety of ways in our society, both in the workplace and in our private lives. For example:

  • Older workers are phased out to make way for younger workers making smaller salaries despite their lack of concrete experience
  • We speak to olders as if they must have hearing or cognitive deficiencies
  • We assume many things about olders: they are feebleminded, they are physically inactive, they are depressed, they aren’t interested in learning new things, etc.
  • Growing old is something to fear or dread. (If that is so, why do so many earnestly strive to reach the next birthday … and the next … and the next?)

There are so many subtle examples of ageism that you probably have never thought about the implications. Have you ever sent or received a birthday card extolling the hazards of growing old—a cake with a million candles that may necessitate calling the fire department, older folks with hearing, physical, or mental impairments? Have you ever witnessed an older being talked down to or talked over? Have you ever become impatient with an older who is moving or communicating slowly? Ouch! We must admit that we could be guilty as charged in all accounts!

We don’t bring this up to scold or to be condescending. Rather, our intent is to bring awareness to an issue that we may never have considered to be problematic. In our work as move managers, we constantly must stop and be mindful that our clients often are just as capable of making decisions and functioning on a day-to-day basis as those who happen to be much younger. They may take longer to make decisions—perhaps they are more thoughtful and relying on their many years of experience. They may take longer to move about—perhaps they are being more careful. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from them about aging gracefully.

Two books we can recommend, if you would like to explore this subject further are:

  1. How to Say it to Seniors, Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders by David Solie
  2. This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite

Cindy & Kandy

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