who are all of these old people?
i don’t belong here, the inner dialogue
Who are all of these old people? What am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I’m sure it’s happened to all of us: you walk into some kind of event, look around, and my God, all of these people are old! Maybe it’s a restaurant, a lecture, or your high school class reunion, it happens.
“In our minds, we are all young.”
Wait, stop! Problem number one: no, we are not all young, so stop saying that. Anyway, why do we assume it’s “better” to be young than old? Well because it just is…
No! really it’s not, that’s just an assumption, a generalization, a stereotype.
So what’s wrong with generalizations and stereotypes unless they’re actually hurting someone?
The problem is that more often than not they do hurt someone.
Why are these mostly affluent women, practically pushing me out-of-the-way, rushing to the cookies and the cheese?
Perhaps their eyesight is bad? And so?
God, I must be the youngest one here…
Anyway, this was my mind on Applewhite, Leland, and Finkelstein this Saturday, when I went to a panel discussion entitled:
“A New Way To Look At Aging.”
Who are these people? By now you should know who Ashton Applewhite is, but if you don’t, go here or here to read about her book, This Chair Rocks. John Leland has been a metro reporter at, tongue in cheek he himself called it, “The Failing New York Times,” since 2000. He is also author of the very popular book, Happiness Is A choice You Make. Ruth Finkelstein, the moderator of the panel, is a professor at Columbia University and expert on various aspects of public health and aging.
Here are my “take aways” from the discussion.
Society worldwide is unprepared for an increasingly aging population. This from the NIH: “America’s 65-and-over population is projected to nearly double over the next three decades, from 48 million to 88 million by 2050.”
I thought a wonderful point on this was made by Ruth Finkelstein. She mentioned all of the gerontology departments in universities she’s seen, with no older people working in them. So who’s going to prepare us for the coming demographic changes?
We put so much focus on youth and “anti-aging,” in everything from medicine to cosmetics, who has the time to think about their older, future self?
us versus them
The us versus them mentality needs to stop. There are fallacies that help feed this mentality. For example the “lump of labor” fallacy. You can read about it here, but briefly, it’s the idea that there is a finite number of jobs at any one period of time.
This fallacy leads to the notion that older people need to leave the job market to make place for younger people. And of course terms like “silver tsunami” certainly don’t help with this and the us vs. them perspective.
Here come all the old people, a storm, a disaster, something to run from!
Unproductive to say the least. Here Ms. Finkelstein interjected, telling us that she sat down one day to thing about her own career and job creation. She realized that in the various positions she had held, she had probably “created” 300 jobs.
This is not a zero sum game, it’s really no game at all.
We have to stop with the “anti-aging.” Why the hell are we so anti-aging, from the creams we buy to the diets we go on and the supplements we take, anti-aging? No one is arguing that health isn’t important, but desperately trying to stave off the inevitable is a waste of time.
At first glance this may seem like a little thing, “let me buy my face creams, for God’s sake,” but the problem is that the anti-aging message morphs into young = good and old = bad. And of course that helps to further estrange the two groups leading to more us vs. them.
This is where John Leland’s work fit in. When he talked about the old people he spent time with, all of them over 85, he witnessed realistic but positive attitudes towards aging.
While these people had experienced real hardship, they were not anti anything that was a part of life. Life.
ageism is for everyone
Ageism is not just an old people’s problem. How many times haven’t you heard olders disparage millennials?
“Millennials are just spoiled, lazy, entitled!”
I hear it all the time, and even though it’s sometimes said in an almost indulgent manner, it’s still ageism. And yes, stereotyping. At this time in history, we can’t afford to stay in our corners, blaming each other for what we don’t understand and not bothering to learn anything about the other.
the inner dialogue continues
But doesn’t ageism affect the old disproportionately? It must, who wouldn’t hire a qualified 25-year-old over a qualified 55-year-old, that’s the reality. I want to ask moderator Finkelstein did she look to see that some of the jobs she created went to older people? Huh?
Is this a first world problem? Look at these people, most of them, if not exactly affluent, are comfortable. This is the Upper East Side after all. Sure we can “afford” to ask these questions, but what about the woman scratching to get by in Mexico?
Does that mean we shouldn’t ask questions about what concerns us?
As the population ages, are we going to have more, and better and better anti-aging creams?
Sometimes I feel like we’re beating a dead horse with a rotten stick! And why don’t these old people have wine here? Because it’s early Sunday afternoon and they’re already falling asleep, that’s why.
Are we just scratching the surface here, I feel like we’re always just scratching the surface. I want to talk about the depths of all kinds of prejudice. Without acknowledging and even talking about our prejudices, can we move beyond them?
And where does culture come in? Different cultures approach old age differently, are they all negative?
What am I doing here? Who are all of these old people? This woman is going to fall asleep on my shoulder.
Do boomers need to apologize to millennials? I feel like we do, we are leaving them one fucked up world.
One of the olders who John Leland profiled was, Jonas Mekas. When John talked about Jonas, you could tell there was a very special bond between the two. Jonas died this year, on January 23, at the age of 96.
This is what Jonas said about the people who took care of him, at the end of his life, in the hospital. This is how he lived.
Their work “strengthens my trust in the essential goodness of humanity. No, humanity is not yet lost. It’s only confused. Yes, the bad news dominates all the media. But there are unseen millions of men and women who daily perform invisible but essential human acts that are moving the human evolution along the lines envisioned by the Poet of the Eternity.”
Ashton Applewhite and her best friend, me. (smiley face)