Last month, Ashton Applewhite (This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism) stopped by to meet with Marin’s age-friendly activists at Whistlestop. Her impassioned consciousness-raising against ageism inspired me to look at my own assumptions and prejudices. These assumptions build up the walls that prevent the connectedness we need to make changes for the better in our healthcare systems, employment practices, and societal engagement.
Last night, Jim and I walked over to Arriverderci for dessert. Sitting at a table in the bar was a friend and her friend, both in their 80s. They lamented the fact that San Rafael closed down so early. Every day, my older friends prove to me that stereotypes of older people are purely myths.
Yet, in the last month, three different sales people called me “my dear,” as in “Here you go, my dear.” This isn’t any better than the other name I recently acquired: “miss.” I haven’t been a miss for decades. Perhaps these are now the politically correct things to say to women of a certain age at the cash register? It’s not working for me.
In response, here are my top ten Ashton Applewhite maxims:
10. “When someone says, ‘You look great for your age,’ I say brightly, ‘You look great for your age too!’” I wish I had Ashton on my shoulder to whisper a non-condescending response to those who call me “my dear!”
9. “There is no such thing as ‘age-appropriate.’” Ashton quotes Swedish sociologist lars Tornstam who points out that older people have “a feeling of being a child, a young person, an adult, middle age and old — all at once! Ashton calls it being an “old person in training.”
8. “As we age, we blame ourselves for a vast range of circumstances not of our making and over which we have no control.” In fact, we need to look at our society’s predilection to medicalizing getting older. To be fair, there is also a tendency to look at teenagers as being in the midst of a medical condition.
7. “Fifty percent of workers over 50 are pushed out of their jobs.” No wonder so many older people are strapped for cash.
6. “People fifty and up fuel the significant, fast-growing and often overlooked “‘longevity economy.’” Who do you think is keeping Marin’s restaurants open? Go out for dinner any night, and you’ll see that it’s older people who are supporting the wonderful restaurants of Marin’s cities and towns.
5. “Aging-in-place is aging-into-isolation.” In Marin, we are trapped by the lack of housing choices. There are few options available for empty-nesters who want to move from their family home to something smaller, closer to stores and friends.
4. “The bull looks different once you enter the ring.” Or, we don’t know what it will be like to be with the bull until we’re IN the ring looking at it. I didn’t know what 60 would be like when I was 50, let alone 40. I don’t have a clue what 80 or 90 will be like.
3. “We need to change ‘we can’t fix that’ to ‘we CAN fix that.’” These days, in simply living our lives, older people face structural systems that limit our options to education, jobs, healthcare, and safety. We don’t have to accept this.
2. “Ageism is the ‘othering’ of our own future self.” We have to reject attempts to impose stereotypes about ourselves in the future. Some bicyclists argued that assist-bikes shouldn’t be allowed on Marin’s trails, even though some day they will need those same bikes to enjoy the paths they climb easily today. Fortunately, the recent debate about assist-bikes in Marin’s open space ended with (partial) equal access for all who want to bike in open space.
1. “Age is a criterion of diversity.” We bring a fourth dimension/time perspective and wisdom from decades of experience that adds an essential insight to every discussion. Diversity is not just in skin color, background, income, or gender. What might an age-friendly-to-all world look like? When anyone asks for a diverse representation, we must say that an older person needs to be included.
Want to learn tools to make Marin more age-friendly to all? Please join us for our annual Convening on April 30 at the Lodge at Tiburon. Spots are going fast, so please register now!
As Ashton says: Cheer up, and push back.
Bring it on!