© Imelda Maurer, cdp
July 13, 2016
The title of this post is a tweet from Donald Trump sent late last night responding to Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments about his competency to hold the office of President of the United States. It is the most recent example of ageism being 'alive and well' in the field of politics and throughout our society.
Such statements are blatantly ageist, blatantly prejudicial. Ageism – with all of its negative effects for older adults, and future older adults – will continue to flourish until us as a society name this prejudice that permeates our society. And the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Which brings me to the question posed in yesterday’s post: “What are the challenges?” I offer two here.
On a personal level:
We must challenge ageist statements whether they are directed to us personally, or if they are general prejudicial statements. When a sales clerk calls me “young woman”, I refute it nicely and graciously but firmly. After all, the basis for anyone calling a woman in her 70’s a young woman is because our society sees youth as a more acceptable state than age. This bias must be acknowledged and addressed.
We must monitor our immediate responses to events and persons that may reflect that we are drawing a conclusion based on chronological age. This practice will lead to a greater consciousness about the degree of ageist attitudes that heretofore have been present but unacknowledged, and therefore not attended to.
On an organizational level:
For those of us whose work involves services for older adults, the previous suggestion of checking immediate responses to persons and events holds true also. Do we automatically believe that this person or that cannot accomplish a certain task because of his/her age or state of presumed disability?
A second aspect is to assure that all policies related to aging services are free of a negative ageist bias. An easy test of that is to see if any policies are age-based: “When a Sister reaches the age of 75 ----.” If Sisters are required to have their driving skills tested ONLY because they have reached a certain age that is ageism being practiced openly and blatantly. Insult is added to injury when the driving skills test is done not by an occupational therapist specialist but by a representative of an insurance company! Clearly, the concern of the insurance company is its bottom line. Period.
I have had participants in workshops argue the previous point with me. I stand on solid gerontological principles in this regard however. If we want a convenient, orderly organization, the ageist policies may be the way to go. If we want an organization where every member is encouraged to continue to develop and live life as fully as possible, we will do away with “when a Sister reaches the age of 75 ------”. It may be a little messier and require a little more time with individuals and/or situations, but it is the more honorable way to facilitate life in an organization. It honors the dignity of the older adult who is seen and judged as a whole person, not someone categorized because of her chronological age.