Monday, March 4, 2013

Ageism: Advocating for our youth and seniors

It dawned on me the other day that I find myself in a situation where I am advocating for our youth and our seniors. I had this image of myself with one foot in the camp that is advocating by promoting the benefits of young people on Boards to support Board diversity and the other foot in the camp that is advocating for an increase in the type and quality of services to our seniors.
What is emerging for me is that ‘Ageism’, or age discrimination is stereotyping our youth and seniors, at the individual and group level because of their age. People are holding a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values that they use to justify age based prejudice, discrimination, and subordination. This can be heard when people argue from the position of ‘they won’t understand’ because they are ‘too young’ or they are ‘too old’ or they ‘don’t have the experience’ or ‘their experiences are out-dated’. When you step back you can observe this going on at both a casual and systematic level. This prejudice is created in language and I argue that language creates what is real for us. A point I will return to.

The term Agism was first used in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe the discrimination that was targeted at our seniors. Butler argued that Ageism was a combination of three interrelated elements. These included: prejudicial attitudes towards older people, old age, and the aging process; discriminatory practices against older people; and institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people’.

So if you accept my premise that language creates what is real for you, what it is that you notice about what you are saying about our youth and our seniors?. Do you bundle every young person into a group that argues we need to encourage their development or do you say they are too unreliable, too lazy, too inexperienced. Do you argue that our seniors are too demanding, too slow, a drain on the public purse?  When we voice our assessments (opinion or judgements) we can fall into the trap of thinking that we ‘hold the truth’. If you bunch everyone together you may find you are negatively discriminating against the individual due to their age.

I return to the point that language creates reality, I argue that when we talk about language we often think about the spoken word. However language is also the private conversations you have in your head. The one you are having now. Language is more than passive descriptive, although it includes descriptions, but language creates our reality. This reality is first created in your thoughts. These thoughts are real to you. When you speak out your thoughts you create was is real for you.

If you speak in ways that are discriminatory, you limit the possibilities that our youth and seniors can offer the world and you may be limiting yourself. For a conversation on how you can advocate and encourage contact

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