Ageism: a phenomenon that is alive and perpetuating even in this day and age where political correctness is endorsed as the way of the successful. Research scholar, Divya Rana of Pacific University, stated in her research paper that ageism is ingrained in us since childhood. She stated that as we grow older, we tend to look for cues which support our prejudices against the elderly, which leads to the younger generations perceiving the elderly more in a negative fashion, than a positive one.
What Exactly Is An Ageist Comment And How Can They Be Recognized?
Ageism occurs when a person is perceived by a member of a society as defined by their age as opposed to their personality, experiences and their individuality. As a result, senior adults and the older population tend to be seen as incompetent and dependent, who require child-like caring. Ageist ideas come from all around us, through anti-aging beauty campaigns, cultural practices of finding younger partners more attractive and such ideas propagated by society in general.
Given how normalized ageism is, it’s not surprising that it seeps into our daily language, our thoughts and actions, without us paying much attention to it. Some ageist comments may even be said in good faith but may end up hurting the feelings of a senior adult, such as calling them “young man/lady”, “sweetie” or “adorable” because they can come across as condescending.
Of course, there are some words that are outright offensive such as calling a senior adult “grumpy old man/woman”, “dried up” or referring to them as “grandpa/grandma” when they are not your grandparents.
How Did The Society Become So Ageist?
Humans across history are known to be not ageist but kind toward the elders of the society. The elders were historically valued for their experience, wisdom and their advice and treated with utmost respect and love. Therefore, humans are not ageist by nature.
With time, as the Industrial Revolution changed the way the world and society worked in general, the elders ceased to be the prime sources of knowledge. With the existence of print media people could now access knowledge from all over the world without having to seek the knowledge from and elder person. During this time, many families also left behind their older parents to migrate to the city in search of better job opportunities and sources of income. This furthered the divide between the young and the elders.
Over the years, ageism began to become embedded into our cultures through bedtime stories and fairytales where the villain is often described as a resentful, hateful and malicious old person, trying to steal the youth of the young protagonist or inflict pain on them. Even in TV shows, older people are often depicted as forgetful, slow and weak. More than anything that makes America’s obsession with being ‘not old’ is the nation’s addiction to plastic surgery and its aversion to a face that shows any hints of aging.
How To Counter Ageist Behavior
Ageist behavior is all around us. It’s often found at the workplace in terms of discrimination, in advertisements, in jokes and through comments that describe them with adjectives that are “uncharacteristic” for their age, such as saying “feisty old lady” or “60 is the new 30”. Here are a few simple ways to deal with them.
Say it Back To Them
Don’t feel bad about ageist comments being thrown at you. Instead, say it back to them. If someone tells you that they are glad you’re still up and around at this age, tell them you are glad they are up and around as well.
Don’t Use Phrases That Give A Negative Connotation To Aging
This includes avoiding phrases such as “back in our day” or “back when I could still run as fast as you can now”. Rephrasing your words and being aware of the language used can greatly help the way people around you perceive you.
When Someone Praises How Young You Look, Flaunt Your Age!
You age is nothing to be ashamed about and shouldn’t be covered up or lied about. Like they say, if you’ve got it, flaunt it! Be boastful about your age and tell them how proud you are of being old.
Ask Them For A Clarification
When someone outrightly says an offensive and ageist comment, ask them what they meant by that. This will save you the effort of explaining why the comment is ageist and offensive and it will give the other person something to think about.
Ageism is present everywhere in our society. The best way to deal with it is by understanding why it happens and using that information to your advantage.
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