Tuesday, March 10, 2009

AGEISM

Why are numbers given so much importance? It's a tricky question in the current economic climate, when numbers are at the top and bottom of our huge problems. I'm thinking here though of numbers of years - the years a human spends on Earth.

Three score years and ten (70) used to be thought the allotted span of a human lifetime. One would have had to be lucky to reach age 70 in many past eras. In the 21st century we are indeed very lucky in this repect. Most people can now expect to live into their eighties, given they've led a reasonably moderate lifestyle with few excesses. In our local newspaper I regularly see obituaries for folks in their late 90s and 100+. There's a gentleman of 103 in our town who still attends the theater regularly, we see him there each time we visit.

That said, there is, among the young and even the middle-aged, a feeling that sentient life somehow stops soon after the 50th year. Some seem to assume that the accumulation of knowledge, experience and emotional intelligence the average person gathers through time simply degenerates into so much goo, with the hapless "senior" person rapidly descending into vegetative state, just waiting for the journey to the funeral home. Where did this idea come from? I think it comes from the past and should be rapidly updated. People, of whatever age, who cling to this notion are old themselves - in their mindset.

Perhaps Saturn opposing Uranus is bringing this to the forefront of my mind just now. Or perhaps it's Pluto's move into Capricorn (Capricorn is ruled by Saturn). Astrologer Robert Phoenix touched on this a few days ago (here).

"Along the same lines, older generations, pre-boomer will be invigorated by Pluto In Capricorn as The Goat rules aging, no matter which generation reaches elder statehood. My father at 73, just started his own website, taking on the evil empire of the local Homeowners Association. His site, ‘Echoes From The Canyon is quickly becoming a unique tool for education and relating to one another in his gated burb, rallying around the inequities of the HOA. He’s finding purpose and technology is helping him achieve. While many are already off the tax rolls, with many more to follow, don’t write them off at all as Pluto in Capricorn will re-invigorate them with renewed purpose."
Saturn represents age, Uranus represents all things modern. Currently, and for many months to come, the two lie opposite one another, in a symbolic push-pull situation. I have Sun in Aquarius. The two opposing planets are both associated with Aquarius: Saturn its traditional ruler, Uranus was given its rulership in more recent times. Perhaps these days Aquarians will be feeling more keenly, one way or another about ageism - it's a possibility.

Ageism is the last big "ism" needing to be addressed both in the USA and in the UK. Legislation has been in place to deal stringently with racism and sexism for decades. Any legislation against ageism seems largely ignored. People of "a certain age", however, are still expected to take insults, sneers and being overlooked for interesting jobs all in good part, while ethnic minorities and younger women have the protection of the law against discrimination and name-calling

I had a tiny taste of ageism brought home to me by a comment which arrived last week on an old post of mine. The commenter expressed surprise that an "old gal" like me could be in a position to write about the stuff I write about, and congratulated me on "conquering the internet". It was meant kindly, but felt like a mild slap in the face. I laughed about it later and tried to accept it in the way it was intended.

"Ageism is as odious as racism and sexism" - that's a quote from someone called Claude Pepper, but I've said it myself on many occasions. Many folk just don't get it though. They will insult the elderly without even realising what they do, yet those same folk are sensitive to racism and sexism, because they've been educated to be so. So far, education with regard to ageism has been sadly lacking.

In an article, "Perils of Ageism", on a blog called We're Only Human, I came across a theory I'd not heard before. It's a thought which the young could be well advised to take on board:


"And it may not just be the elderly who are harmed by ageism. New evidence suggests that young, healthy people who stereotype old people may themselves be at risk of heart disease many years down the road. Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health examined data on hundreds of men and women who have been studied for almost four decades as part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Back in 1968, when scientists first began studying these volunteers, they ranged in age from 18 to 49 and were all in very good health. At that time, scientists gathered all sorts of information about the volunteers, including their attitudes toward the elderly. Their images of being old covered the gamut from very positive to very negative.
Levy and her colleagues examined the health histories of all the volunteers, focusing on cardiovascular disease: heart attacks, congestive heart failure, stroke, and so forth. There was a striking link between ageism early in life and poor heart health later on. That is, those who viewed old age as a time of helplessness were much more likely to experience some kind of cardiovascular disorder over the next four decades. The scientists also looked at a subset of volunteers who didn’t have any heart problems until after they were 60—at least 21 years later—and found that these people had been very negative about aging from early on. The episodes of heart disease could not be explained by smoking, depression, cholesterol, family history, or any of a myriad other possible risk factors.
What this suggests, Levy writes in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science, is that people are internalizing stereotypes of old age when they are still quite young—with far reaching consequences. This is the first scientific look at people maturing into the very people they have been unkindly caricaturing. It could be taken as a cautionary tale for those who think they’ll never grow old."

This 40 second video was made to promote Ireland's "Say No to Ageism" week 2008. In Ireland, at least, someone understands!!


(Advert samples from here)

9 comments:

anthonynorth said...

I blame youth culture. Don't get me wrong, it's a good thing, but it channels everything towards youth.

Wisewebwoman said...

We are in sync, as always T. I had a post prepared on this - at a different slant and will link to you on it.
Well written, my dear, (for an old bird) ahem ;^)
XO
WWW

Twilight said...

AN ~~~ Yes, youth culture is fine and good, but only if those who have passed that stage are treated with equal respect. :-)

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Oh really! I'll look forward to reading your take on it then - & thanks for any linking.
:-P - Birds are beautiful, old or young. ;-)

juliedemboski said...

Beautifully said, and highly relevant! I come from a large family and was given very positive images of aging, for the most part (and you can really see the difference between those who are positive and those who aren't, with the negative ones suffering more with each passing day and advancing wrinkle!) Thank you for this excellent (and I hope for some, eye-opening) article!
jd

Jacqueline Bigar said...

I have been questioning for about 8 years "ageism" within my family, which is Swiss/French.

I give Aunts and Uncles( in their late 80's) much respect.

I go to them before I make major decisions as their insights are so worthy and helpful. It never has occurred to me, to categorize them ' as "old" but as wise They it must be said, all live vital lives still, one lecturing in their field, the other painting and sculpturing, which she has done her whole life. They never stopped working.

Their vitality is admirable. Then I see my children who I raised to say what they mean, question etc and of course as "Americans" they can be very challenging and unaccepting of elders....They simply do not 'enjoy' their elders, including my aunts and uncles.

My children respect their elders but appreciating their wisdom of years...no.

I have come to the opinion, re-inforced by travelling that this is a US issue. We make youth a God, shun looking old etc.

Jacqueline Bigar said...

I just realized something when I hit send on the last comment. The difference I think is that I am treated with respect, interest from my elders. As if I offer my own uniqueness and perspective.

That I give to my children (37 and 35O) too. They have many different experiences to draw from. I often ask them for an opinion, as I am asked by my elders.

Could this also be an issue of respect?

Twilight said...

Jacquie...Hi!

Thanks for your thoughts and sharing your own experiences on this.
It's a complex issue isn't it? The issues are different in different cultures, too.

I don't ever recall feeling anything but respect and affection for the older members of my own family circle, and any extended family members - added to which was always the dread of the day I'd lose them. I remember that very clearly!

As for older people outside my family - I've always just looked on them as other human beings, different from me in their experience, but basically the same.
Same for the gender thing too. I don't go along with the common opinion that men and women are different (Men are From Mars...etc.) That, to me, is harmful rubbish. But that's off topic!

You could be right in saying this is largely an American syndrome, although the UK is guilty of it nowadays too.

More public information about it might help. I think a lot of folks just don't realise what ageism means. They don't equate it to racism or sexism.

Twilight said...

Julie - Hi there!

Thanks - I'm glad it was of interest.

Yes, positive/negative attitudes spill over into most areas of life, I find. Someone who is mainly positive in outlook isn't likely to fall into the ageism trap of treating their elders with disprespect, or enjoying seeing it done by others.