You’re invisible, irrelevant, too young or too old to understand, my darling.
Twenty-something billionaires strutting on the streets, yet when I walked into a meeting a few weeks ago, my young face, short frame, and un-aggressive persona prompted a client to speak down to me. My little sister [who isn’t so little any more] hated being the youngest among cousins for years because she was treated like a child long after puberty. My mother says she can’t change her habit of worrying because she’s set in her ways now.
We are not the victims of a number, but sure are held hostage by the stigmas of age. Since we often discuss sexism, racism, elitism, I wanted to throw ageism in the mix.
There is some research evidence suggesting that having ageist beliefs can affect how quickly you recover from disability, how your memory functions, and even the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In short, if you believe you’re going to be ragged, unable, weak, and smelly when you’re old, you probably won’t engage in healthy behaviors, chalking up deteriorating health to aging.
Equal employment opportunity and healthcare aside, this article discusses the social implications of ageist beliefs [haphazardly put]. Here are some of the stigmas of age that I have come across [and even harbored] at some point. Have you?
You’re supposed to be..
Lifestyle stereotypes apply not only to the old, but also to the young. If you’re young, you have to buy into a way of being, pop culture and peers say. In India, the Middle East and in the West, if you don’t drink, smoke, club, or chill, you’re asked to ‘stop acting 60 years old.’
If you’re old and playful, wearing clothing that’s fashionable and/or seductive, using your time to explore the unconventional, you’re politely asked to ‘act your age.’
It is the prescribed way to live; Vitality, immaturity, playfulness are qualities attributed to the young, while maturity, intellectual prowess and seriousness are attributed to the old. You know what I’m talking about:
The old think they cannot change now,
The young are made to believe they don’t know enough yet,
The old refuse to start something new,
The young are too afraid to.
I’ve seen and been a youth who’s apprehensive of interacting with ‘boring old people’ [grandparents]. Get rid of the assumptions. They might surprise you by understanding you more than your peers [or not]. Give them a chance.
Intellectually, there’s a difference between being knowledgeable and being wise. Wisdom comes with experience, it’s said, but I’ve met far too many narrow-minded old people, and far too many brilliant young ones to use age as a determining factor of intellect.
Much like the stigma towards the old, the young are treated as intellectually inferior. Instead of shrugging their questions away as a symptom of immaturity, take time out to have a conversation with them, explaining and exchanging ideas. Take a look at Louis CK’s take on ‘Older People Are Smarter’:
Granted, the young have been raised with technology, but what stumps me is old people’s relationship with technology – a self-fulfilling prophecy. They’re told they are too old to learn new gadgets and they don’t try, so they don’t learn.
So, maybe take out the time to teach your parents and grandparents how to connect on social media. Remember, one day, you’ll be old too and there will be flying cars you won’t have command over.
We glorify ages. Forever 21, forever young, forever alive. The old are not always wise, and the young are not always brimming with vitality. Don’t get me wrong, biology does play a part and old age may lead to less physical activity, but there are always stereotype breakers. Be the breaker.
Don’t long to get old to stay home when you want, and don’t become idle because you’re ‘old and need rest’. This black-and-white categorization will only lead to unsatisfied grouchiness – and that’s not attractive at any age.
Speaking of stereotype breakers, take a look at this badass grandpa:
Self-imposed restrictions: I’m too set in my ways & I’m too young to care
No, you’re not. The trouble is real when we internalize these socially imposed behaviors and tout them as ‘reality.’ These two needed a separate mention. They are used too often.
You don’t lose your ability to improve your skills, personality, and attitude with age. Instead, ideally, you’d realize the importance of being flexible and changing for the better.
There’s no invisible threshold of flexibility that you cross at a certain age. New ideas are always open to you.
A note to the young: If you care when you’re young, you’ll be better off when you’re older. There’s no right time to start acting serious or smart.
Ask for a reason
Gone are the days when we would blindly listen to elders without asking for reasons. You, little one, might know better [might]. Remember, logic rules all. Borrow some inspiration from Mateo:
Whether it’s your parents convincing you to go down a specific career path, or your children treating you like you’re too old to understand new values, take the number out of the equation and you’ll start seeing things differently.
Ageism, because it isn’t given much space in media discussions, is often overlooked and the young and the old suffer at the hands of social norms. We’ve come a long way from “don’t cry like a girl” and “be a man.”
Let’s do the same for “act your age.”
Share this piece with your parents and kids and let’s stop ‘acting our age.’