Older people can control how they respond to ageism

Q: I used to think that because I had been with my company for so many years that the management would see the value of my experience and welcome the opportunity to keep me on staff.

I was wrong. Given a little bit of a downturn in the economy and I suddenly have a letter with an offer to buy out my resignation and take an early retirement.

That is a heartbreak. I love my job. I love getting up in the morning to go to work. I love kibitzing with the guys in the shop and I feel satisfied when a machine on which I have been working clicks into place and starts purring again when we pull the cord. I am going to miss all of that.

But worse than that, I hate the prospect of sliding into the lethargy of old age. I don’t like my kids calling me an old gizzard, I hate people telling me that I am only as old as I feel, and I get really torqued when the bank manager tells me that my credit rating took a bit of a shot after my last birthday.

I am not going to tell you how old I am, but I am going to say that I would love it if you could put together a few words respecting the rights and privileges of those of us who don’t have to show their driver’s licences whenever they buy six packs from you know where.

A: Thank you for your letter and thank you for bringing our attention to the plight of people who have long since passed their 65th milestone. Our communities have a tendency to discriminate against those who are older, and just as discrimination is buried beneath the social fabric for those from different races or cultures or sexual orientation, so it is that many of our so-called seniors find themselves at the wrong end of rude comments and hostile gestures. It is called ageism. One could argue that simply getting that package, encouraging you to retire because of your age, and not on your ability or commitment to the workplace, was discriminatory.

Discrimination is the tendency of a social community to judge people on the basis of one characteristic. First Nations people are judged because of their cultural traditions, women are judged because of their tendency to thrive in their emotions, and gays and lesbians are judged because of their sexuality. When a person is judged because of one characteristic, all of the rest of who that person is gets ignored. Old people are often judged because they are a little slower than the rest of the community. But the question is, “slower at what?”

You might be slower at solving math problems while your neighbour is slower shopping for groceries. Both of you are slower, but it is different, isn’t it. My mom had a mobility problem. She took forever going from her bedroom to the kitchen. She was slow. But once she was in the kitchen she could take a dish of bread dough and whip up a tray of dinner rolls faster than you could steam them with fresh honey and butter. They tasted better too.

Your task is to make sure that you don’t let them do this to you. You might not have any control over what the management of the place where you used to work does, but you have a huge amount of control over what you believe about yourself.

You know yourself to be a competent and capable person, you know yourself to be enthusiastic and energetic, and you know yourself for your strengths and your weaknesses.

Once you understand all of that about yourself and share that confidence in yourself with your neighbours, you, and others like you, might turn the tide and help everyone erase unnecessary discriminatory gestures to the most deserving of our population hierarchy, the elderly.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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