The lie that 'old is bad and young is good' is so deeply held in our culture that we do not recognize it. Carter Williams, a renowned geriatric social worker, a deeply profound thinker and compassionate person revealed to a national audience her experiences that revealed her own internalized ageism.
Carter Catlett Williams, Geriatric Social Worker
Pioneer Network Co-Founder and Pioneer Network Conference Convener
Convener Address August 11, 2013
Carter reflects on her experiences after moving from her home of more than 40 years into a retirement community:
"But once I began to settle into my pleasing small apartment with this generous wall-to-wall window to the east and a view of the treetops, surprising – even shocking-feelings beset me. They were not in regard to physical accommodations or the warm welcome from staff and other tenants, but to the unbidden critical responses that rose in me about social aspects of my new environment. I had known several people who lived here and had visited good friends here for many years, so it was with amazement that I viewed the dining room on my first evening.
"Most everyone, it seems, depended on a walker to get around. Walkers encircled the large room, and at the conclusion of the meal, a procession of bent bodies slowly made its way to the elevator. It was a startling scene that suggested dependency and no sense of their own agency. And I felt emphatically that I didn't belong in it, nor did I want to be identified with it.
"Deep within I rejected the signs of dependence, and fostered the idea that I was different, and didn't belong with people in this condition. Prejudice I didn't know I had – in fact prided myself on not having – was laid there. How could I, a professional geriatric social worker of 40 years experience, harbor such thoughts? I was brought face-to-face with the cultural prejudices concerning old age that pervade our society and had to accept that deep down they had conditioned me along with everyone else. For now that I was joining THEM, the Infirm Old, I didn't like it. I was emphatic in wanting to set myself apart.
"The first conclusion I draw from this experience is that we don't know our innermost souls until we are stripped of our book learning, posturing and our unrecognized absorption of the culture around us that says a person with manifestation of physical aging is not a beautiful human being."
If a woman of Carter Williams' stature is not exempt from this prejudice, none of us, I believe, can feel free of this internalized lie. The good news, however, is that once a reality is named, it can be addressed. This is the happy challenge: acknowledge ageism wherever you see it: within yourself and within your everyday experiences with others. Then challenge the lie that 'old is bad and young is good' with the good news of truth!