Challenging the Ageist Paradigm

Compelling issues for all, regardless of age.

Posted Nov 15, 2017

Let’s start with a thought-provoking question: what is your earliest memory of an old person, and how did it influence your views about older people in general?

For me, that person was my Danish grandmother. Even though I had a relatively easy childhood, she was one of the few people who looked at me with unconditional love. That is a precious gift: to feel totally accepted for who you are, to feel unbounded love without judgments. These are the most important gifts to give a child.

Born of my grandmother’s love, I have experienced an enduring passion for the role of elders in our culture. Now an elder myself, I’ve lived with some compelling questions:

How do we find beauty in old age?

How do we challenge the paradigm of ageism?

How do we age consciously and cultivate an inner life resilient enough to handle the vicissitudes of old age?

Ageism, both blatant and hidden, is pervasive in our culture, a troubling phenomenon compared to Asian or indigenous cultures where the elderly are respected, honored, and seen as the “wisdom keepers.” I once saw a poster that read, “We’re not old, we’re recycled teenagers.” In spite of the humorous tone, the last thing I want to be is a recycled teenager! Like many other ageist statements, this one denies the reality of old age, a natural part of the life cycle.

Something is seriously amiss in our culture. Materialism, consumerism, and the quest for youth, combined with fear of aging and denial of death make for a culture that is strangely arrested in an adolescent dream. When the later chapters of life are feared, elders demeaned, and rejection of death come together, is it any wonder there can be widespread depression among elders? We have been subtly—sometimes not so subtly—excised from the national psyche. In Jungian terms, this creates the shadow, the darkened, unacknowledged forces in the psyche that erupt in unpredictable ways.

How do we challenge the ageist paradigm? Our generation, and the baby boomers behind us, are becoming increasingly conscious of ageist issues. We’re speaking out, writing, and exposing hidden and harmful instances of ageism. We’re paying attention to urgent issues such as job discrimination, psychological problems, elder care, end of life options, and so on.

It’s heartening to see the proliferation of age-related resources like Sage-ing International, Changing Aging Newsletter, and Conscious Elders Network, to name just a few. Check these resources for support and inspiration.

What else can you do personally?

  1. Keep your ears open for ageist statements or jokes, and speak out. “Might there be another way to look at this?” you might ask.
  2. Write letters to the editor of your local paper to call out ageism or support conscious aging initiatives.
  3. If you are now an elder, affirm your gifts and speak out with your wisdom and insights that come from a life fully lived.
  4. Know that you are worthy of honor and respect! Stand tall, feel your power, speak out. Old is beautiful!