Reflections on ageism

Sunshine Coast Seniors Planning Table

I recall a time about 20 years ago when my mom came home and matter-of-factly stated that she had become invisible. She said it started to happen when she turned 60. I was 35 back then, and although I couldn’t really comprehend her experience, I knew that it was significant – and I have never forgotten it to this day.

Now I understand that what she was describing was “ageism.” Robert Butler coined the term ageism back in the ’60s as a “process of systematic stereotyping or discrimination against people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish with skin colour and gender.”

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Ageism is about making both negative and positive generalizations about all “old people” simply because of their age – it’s about discriminating against ourselves in the future.

Negative examples include “all old people are bad drivers, boring, don’t do anything but sit around all day, are not sexual and are mentally incompetent.”

Positive examples include “all old people are sweet, angelic and wise.” Although we live in a youth-oriented society, younger people aren’t exempt from being victims of ageist generalizations either.  For example: “all kids do is send texts and connect on Facebook.”

It is my belief that we all have ageist attitudes. I have alarmingly noticed them in myself. It is in some ways no surprise. We are surrounded by anti-aging messaging. The problem is that when we make generalizations about a whole group of people, rather than valuing each person as a unique and valuable being, it enables us to treat them as “less than.” When anyone is devalued, it then makes it possible for us to discount and disrespect them.

What can we each do to address this societal problem? We can learn to recognize ageist language and attitudes in ourselves. We can speak up about it in our interactions with others or when we see examples of it in organizations, in the media, in social policies. We can keep organizing opportunities for people of all ages in our communities to come together.

Seniors Planning Table action groups: The Seniors Planning Table work plan includes the development of a series of action groups, all of which are in the process of meeting for the first time over the summer to identify key issues to be addressed. So far more than 40 community members have signed up for groups focused on substandard housing, abuse response and prevention, safety issues, and dementia support. In addition we have an evaluation and a communications group to support this work. We welcome people of all ages with an interest!

Information/education: Many of the 50 plus organizations and individuals on the Seniors Planning Table have taken the group’s priorities to heart and are planning community information events for the fall. As a result, my focus has been on offering information on financial benefits. If you or your group is interested, contact or 604-885-4088. Thanks to the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation and Sunshine Coast Credit Union for their support.

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