Let’s Challenge Aging Stereotypes with the Words We Use
If you’re passed 60, you might be giving in to the misguided images that society has long promoted about being older.
It’s so easy to do, isn’t it? If something hurts, it must be because you’re aging. If a job doesn’t work out, it must be because someone sees you as old. If you’re not getting out and enjoying yourself as much as you used to, it’s that age thing again.
It is so easy to blame everything on age. I admit I’m not immune to letting it pacify me when I want an excuse. After all, I am human.
A Better Way to Wake Up
Mostly, though, I like to wake up in the morning feeling gratitude for what I’ve acquired in my 79 years. I’ve climbed many of my personal mountains since childhood, and have had many challenges throughout my life.
Yet, I appreciate all my life lessons. These hurdles have given me an opportunity to grow and become who I am today. In fact, I’m truly amazed at what I’ve accomplished through my years. The longer I live, the more I do. My latest source of pride is my book Revivement: Having a Life After Making a Living.
What’s Your Take on Aging?
Here’s what actress Jamie Lee Curtis said about aging: “If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile.”
Change Minds by Changing Language
So, how do we rejuvenate ourselves and help others see us at our best? There are two ways: by changing our minds and changing our language. And, help others change theirs.
We need to listen with new ears to what denigrates an older person, and make corrections in real time. For instance, if you hear someone say, “Old dogs can’t learn new tricks,” understand there are three offensive ideas for older adults in that statement: old… dogs… can’t learn.
Be proactive and correct those negative words by helping others learn a positive way to communicate. You could comment by saying: “Actually, when you’re older, you’re smarter, because you’ve had more time to acquire and integrate knowledge.”
Words that Get in the Way
I’ve found five ways to handle misused language and mindsets:
- Eliminate words like ‘elderly,’ ‘aging dependents,’ and similar other terms that stoke stereotypes.
- Rethink, reframe, and teach words that honor us all.
- Replace misrepresenting words with ‘older adults.’
- Be an example. Show your muster no matter your age by getting out in the world and interacting with others.
- Demonstrate you are still vital and worthy as you work, volunteer, socialize, exercise and participate in life.
An Icon that Disproves Old Speak
If someone misrepresents what it is to be an older person, have that individual check out the recent documentary on Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg titled RBG.
At 85 she continues to work. And, she does 20 push-ups a day!
Throughout her career, this icon has been instrumental in changing people’s minds and language in a big way by stating the obvious truths about how women have been marginalized for centuries.
Through clear, simple language, she has brought awareness to the many issues surrounding women’s rights, and has had important legislation passed to make impactful changes that support women.
How to Stay Vital
Today’s neuroscientists tell us we can learn and be smarter at any age. As long as we activate our brains with new information, cognitive challenges, and activities, the neurons that fire together wire together and expand our aptitudes.
We also need to recognize how much experience and skill we have as older adults and help others see our value.
Will you join me in setting the record straight? Let’s educate ourselves and others on the rewards of being over 60 by changing minds and language to honor the truth.
Please share examples of what you see, hear and experience when people talk about older adults. Include any suggestions or stories you have about changing minds and language to honor the mature generation.
Gloria Dunn-Violin is a professional speaker, workshop leader, and author of Revivement: Having a Life After Making a Living. Her 25-year background in organizational behavior and development, constant research and personal experience makes her uniquely qualified to guide retirees on their journey. She also hosted a cable TV talk show and writes for publication. Visit her site at www.havingalifenow.com.