Ageism in our Culture

Dave Budd

Dave BuddDuring last year’s Super Bowl, I saw a commercial for an investment company that struck home for me just how tolerant society can be when it comes to ageism.

The ad meant to convince people to start early when saving for retirement. It featured older adults who presumably did not save enough and went back to work during what we might consider their retirement years. It showed older people struggling to fit in next to their younger, more competent co-workers. An older lifeguard jogged next to two young lifeguards, ala “Baywatch.” An older firefighter tried to hold onto a hose as he was whiplashed around. A stuntman was shocked after being lit on fire.

Frankly, the ad made them all look ridiculous and pitiful. The assumption was that the depictions were all in good fun, but they only served to dehumanize the older people featured.

This is ageism in action. Ageism is defined as stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups based on their age.

Ageism is so pervasive in our culture that many of us don’t even notice it or realize how damaging it can be; damaging not just to our society but to our own psyches. How many of us think of our own aging as little more than a process of diminishment? When we lose our car keys, we call it a “senior moment.” We start to think we’re not good enough when we don’t get the job after the face-to-face interview.

While society continues to struggle with the issues of racism, sexism and disability discrimination, it’s fair to say we have made some positive strides in bringing the issues to light. In general, we have a better appreciation of the richness of diversity, and have evolved our attitudes and the language we use in our daily conversations.

I am guilty of ageism too and I am sometimes hardly even aware when I am doing it. I look at a dated photo of myself and see a younger, better version of me. Why do I think this way? Aging is normal and natural, and something we all experience.

One of the many rewarding things about growing older is that you can grow your perspective on life and perhaps recognize profound truths when you encounter them. Do you want to be inspired and awakened? Get online and search for the phrase: “let’s end ageism.” Watch Ashton Applewhite’s TED Talk, and then take a few minutes to reflect on your attitudes toward age.  

Challenge yourself to elevate your thinking and attitudes about aging in a way that will improve all lives. Not just for today’s elders, but for the future-elders among us as well. This new awareness can be a gift to yourself and generations to come.