Driving a familiar neighborhood route yesterday I was reminded that within a few months I will be visited by a representative of an insurance company who will evaluate my mental acuity and my driving ability. I am scheduled for this evaluation because of one and only one factor: my chronological age. I experience this event with pain and with anger for the implementation of unmasked ageism that it is.
The context is this: the insurance company with which many –
and my own – religious congregations do business recommends this testing as a
part of their risk management strategy. Clearly the insurance company values
holding down expenses. A valid and responsible goal. Clearly the congregations
engaged with this insurance company want to keep expenses down and want to keep
members safe. Again, a valid and responsible goal.
Let me share a story here told to me several years ago by a
Chicana Sister in Texas. Every year in the elementary school she attended, there
was a ‘lice check’ on the first day of school. This was the procedure: every Latino student, and only Latino
students, were called out of the classroom to be examined by a nurse. Shocking. Shameful. Children, based on their
ethnicity and only on their ethnicity were treated in a discriminatory manner. The
practice is clearly racist and would never even be considered in today’s
culture. Our society is more ‘woke’ to such blatant racism.
No one in the school system, I am sure, set out to act in a
racist way, in a way that denigrated a class of students, that brought shame
and embarrassment. The school system had a goal of maintaining good public
health. Again, a valid and responsible
goal. The error in this 1950s practice was the means by which a valid and
responsible goal was sought. A noble end never justifies a racist means.
A noble and valid end never justifies an ageist means
either. There is assuredly no ill intent on anyone’s part in this present
practice of driving evaluation based solely on chronological age.
Simultaneously there clearly is no awareness that it is an prejudicial,
Some Sisters shrug and say ‘it’s okay’, which can be read as
evidence of internalized ageism: ‘I’m not quite as worthy a person as I was
when I was younger.’ ‘The very fact of
my chronological age lessens my value.’ This is the age-shame that accompanies
internalized ageism, an all too common reality among elders that is entrenched
even more deeply by overt ageist policies.
As warriors for social justice, Sisters have stood with the
oppressed and marginalized in countless ways and places throughout our history.
At times we have also succumbed to the values of the broader culture in
practicing racism, for example. (See NY Times “Nuns Who Bought and Sold Human
Beings”). Awakening to an awareness of this social sin of not honoring the
rights and dignity of the other, Congregations of Sisters have taken public
action to express their contrition prejudice as and to ask for forgiveness.
Ageism is an insidious, harmful-to-all-of-us prejudice. It
harms our future selves and negatively impacts achievement, health, longevity,
and well-being as Becca Levy’s research has consistently shown.
Called to a prophetic, counter-cultural stance, can we
Sisters awaken to such instances of ageism, recognize that the end does not
justify an ageist means, and seek an insurance solution that honors fiscal
responsibility, safety and the simultaneous dignity of the individual? Yes, we can! The first step is naming the