Loren Hardin Column
This is Part 3 in my personal self-help series on aging and ageism. This week I’m introducing you to my old departed friend Ed. I met Ed when he was managing the affairs of his deceased friend’s wife, Gladys, who was on hospice. Ed was in his 90s and was still caring for his developmentally disabled daughter, “Barbie.”
Ed took Barbie joy rides every evening, putting 30,000 miles a year on his Ford Escort, “Because she loves it.” Ed carried a pager and still did taxes for a small select clientele. He frequently gave me collected verses and articles saying, “I thought these might help you in your job…I really like this public relations stuff…” Ed proclaimed, “I give God all the credit for my longevity. He is my pilot and my guide; my judge and my jury.”
Despite Ed’s continued passions, capacities and abilities he suffered the “slings and arrows” of what Dr. Robert Neil Butler (physician, gerontologist, psychiatrist and Pulitzer Prize winning author) termed, “ageism” (1969). Ed testified, “People are always telling me, ‘You’re too old to do that Pops’; but I tell them, ‘I don’t count my birthdays, I count my blessings… I don’t think about how old I am, I think about the job I have to do.’”
Ed testified to how people become impatient and irate with him when he drives, even though he maintains the speed limit, “When I’m driving I just obey the signs and keep it between the lines.” Ed concluded, “People get old before their time; because they get old in their minds.” Unfortunately, people can also get old before their time when they get “old” in our minds. We tend to treat people the way we see them; and we tend to assess our worth by our reflections in the eyes of others.
“Ageism”, like racism is a form of discrimination with its associated prejudiced attitudes, discriminating practices and social injustices. Ageism segregates isolates and marginalizes. Discrimination makes judgments in favor of, or against, a person based upon preconceived notions or stereotypes about a group or class to which they belong; rather than on individual merit. Ageism regards older persons as debilitated, unworthy of time and attention and leads to reduced expectations and opportunities.
The prejudice associated with ageism can be “benevolent” or “hostile” (Iverson, Larsen, Solem; 2009). Benevolent prejudice involves seeing older people as “friendly” but “incompetent”, “over the hill”, “not up to the job”, and results in the elderly being talked down to, talked around, pitied, marginalized and patronized. Hostile prejudice is based upon hate and fear and can result in disrespect, neglect, isolation and mistreatment.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being stereotyped, labeled, judged, pitied, patronized or marginalized. All that most of us ask for or expect is a fair shake, to be treated with respect, to be related to based upon who and what we are; upon our individual merit; nothing more, nothing less. So why in the world would we think that the elderly want or deserve anything less? After all, doesn’t the “golden rule” apply to the elderly too; or does it just apply to those of us under age sixty? (But not for long!)
I leave you with some final words of wisdom from another old departed friend, Loyal:” Be careful, or you’ll miss the gem by disqualifying the source”