Almost every time I start a conversation with a younger person the same strange thing happens. And by younger I mean much younger. Say under 50 ish?
Being me, most conversations rapidly get themselves around to the positives of ageing. As I expound about, freedom, enjoying life, knowing who you are …. you can imagine how I go on…something almost always starts. Their eyes light up, they chuckle, cant wait to interrupt.
“My Grandma is like that. Always doing something, dancing, yoga, volunteering and off travelling. And she is 75 too. But not old!”
Wait a minute! What have they just said?
Because she is living a happy active life they are saying she isn’t old? Yet they know she is!
What makes them say that?
Yes! It’s that lurking Stereotype again. The downhill, decrepit depressed lonely old age stuff we have all absorbed.
Quite automatically, they are measuring ‘My Grandma’, the one they actually know, against their internal picture of old age.
And they dont even realise that what has just been said is really Unthinkingly Ageist do they? That deep hidden assumption about old age being a bad place to be. Then the joy that “my Grandma’ isnt there. And obviously very proud of her.
But I hear it constantly! All these amazing grandparents everywhere.
So why so many so sure that their grandparent is special?
Yes! Of course. That is how stereotypes work. The word ‘Old” has become attached to our internal picture of bent, sad, lonely frail creatures. When we see grey haired ladies everywhere doing perfectly normal things, bustling around a charity shop, having lunch, going to classes or a film, walking with dogs in the park we just dont notice them! They are oddly invisible to the stereotype. We don’t think ‘poor old soul” because they are doing what we are doing.
That all those are likely to be grandparents too somehow slides away. They are living ordinary lives, they cant be “Old” can they?
They are somehow unnoticed. Forgotten when we are having a laugh and chat with our super Grandma and planning her next, panto, party, trip with mates…
I plead guilty too. A similar sort of thing. Recently met a 70 + year old, brown nylon cardy, flat shoes, no make up and grey hair. Admit to sad assumptions, until we chatted. A tri athlete, swimming, cycling and running. Just back from a trek in Peru…Amazing person.
Should have known better! Working as a Physio with older patients we always had that experience. Admitted as a frail sick person that was all you saw. Then as Rehab progressed, the charm, the jokes, the life stories, the real person emerged again. Wonderful.
So here is the question. How are we going to get past our stereotype and see the real “grandmas” everywhere?
All of us, at every age need to recognise that we have it. How do we shed it?
Three ways seem obvious:
First: Intergenerational mixing, genuine friendly chatty socialising works. And especially if the older person is proud of being old, likes their life and happy to say so.
Second: Images of older people, positive ones, as part of everyday life, TV, adverts, news. Not stories of unusual exceptional old people. Just having older people pictured in proportion to the population, and doing everyday things. Rather like Racism. It has moved on nowadays to where now no one notices the colour of a model, a news presenter, a doctor, or an actor. Only whether they are good at their job.
Third: Campaign raising awareness of our own lurking Unthinking Ageism. Challenge ourselves to be alert to it. Pick ourselves up! Pick other people up on their unnoticed ‘youth is good’ slant. Nicely, but clearly until it becomes socially not OK.