You’re getting older.
Imagine if someone said this to you. Regardless of whether it came from someone you know or a complete stranger, you might feel like you’ve just been insulted.
But it’s the truth. You are growing older every second of every day. We all are.
If this is a fact of life for everyone, why does this simple statement evoke such negative emotions?
Before we get into that, it can help to give attention to a fact that should change all of our perspectives on aging. Not everyone gets to age.
Let that sink in for a moment. We often to forget that many people don’t have the opportunity to experience this thing we fear so much. If you’re concerned with a few wrinkles or that you are a little slower than you used to be – remember that none of us are guaranteed to make it “over the hill,” or to be here until tomorrow.
That’s a hard pill to swallow for many.
Do you still feel that those who are older are somehow inferior those who are younger?
If you answered, “yes” – it is likely that your perspective has been influenced by a form prejudice known as ageism.
Ageism is a socially constructed belief. It is a perspective that is largely based on stereotypes, and it represents an unhealthy view of people who are older.
The Origin of Ageism
From the media to the value placed on the American work ethic, ageist views run deep in our culture. Without getting into too much detail, here are a few sources that help contribute to society’s negative view of aging.
First and foremost, we can thank advertisers for being outstanding at their jobs. They tend to magnify our insecurities and can even convince us of problems we never knew we had. Their solutions, frequently created to sell the products they push, often involve hiding or concealing signs of aging – i.e. if you have wrinkles or graying hair, don’t worry, they have a fix for that.
We can also thank mainstream media for magnifying the perceived flaws that are often created and emphasized by advertisers. Interestingly, they always seem to focus on the unfavorable physiological changes people experience with age.
The American Work Ethic
Another important factor to consider is the American work ethic. When you age and are not able to do as much as you used to, some Americans can indirectly classify you as “less than.” For many, saying “I’m retired” can feel like saying “I no longer contribute to society.” But take comfort in the fact that ageism is a cultural issue. The entire world does not share an unhealthy view of those who are older. Many countries celebrate the wisdom that it brings.
As difficult as it is to admit, we are most responsible for ageism. We accept the stigma placed on age and most of us don’t bother to question it. Ashton Applewhite gave a great TED Talk titled Let’s End Ageism, where she provided some fresh insight to the topic.
She expressed that one of the biggest reasons ageism is such a problem is that it starts well before we are able to internalize it. It is so deeply ingrained in our culture that it is often difficult to identify. Most of the time, we don’t even know we are contributing to the problem. Ageism is different from other prejudices in that we do it to ourselves. Every time we make an assumption based on age, we are being ageist.
Applewhite goes on to provide some not-so-subtle ways that we feed into ageism. These examples are things we do in everyday life, and may have never thought to challenge.
Feeling uncomfortable with people at an event who aren’t your own age, and always heading to be around those who are.
Being bothered by a haircut because of a feeling that it isn’t “age-appropriate.”
Do either of these scenarios sound familiar?
Take note that these beliefs pertain to both the younger and older generations. Ageism is not a one-way street. Phrases such as, “You are too young to understand” can be just as inaccurate. Being younger doesn’t always mean a person can’t relate.
An eye-opening epiphany can come from changing our mental narrative to reverse the way we perceive the biological process of aging. Aging is frequently misinterpreted as a terminal illness. A kind of sickness full of undesirable side effects that are inevitably going to destroy one’s body, mind, and career. According to popular America beliefs, aging is ruining your life.
The Truth About Age
It would be naive to believe that aging is a walk in the park. In all honesty, some things do get worse, but they don’t outweigh the things that get better. Most importantly, the aging process is really about change. While we are responsible for accepting the limiting beliefs placed on us, we are also responsible for remembering a very important life lesson: there is always more than what is presented to us. With that being said, let’s set the record straight on aging.
Neurogenesis is the process of the human brain producing new neurons (cells in the brain). Up until recently, scientists did not think this was possible in adults. Modern research has demonstrated that adult neurogenesis is possible, leaving an optimistic future for the cognitive function of healthy aging adults.
Learning, experience, and practice are partly responsible for the increased ability to withstand emotional experiences that come with age. Studies have concluded that older people seem to weed out negative emotions more frequently. They do this by experiencing less negative emotions, focusing more on positive emotions, and remembering more positive emotions. Older people have an overall calmer approach to life.
It is commonly assumed that intelligence declines with age. This is only half true (remember that life lesson from earlier). There are two types of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.
Fluid intelligence involves problem-solving on an abstract level. This includes education and learning.
Crystalized intelligence comes from past learning and experiences such as reading comprehension.
It turns out that although fluid intelligence does decline with age, crystallized intelligence tends to do the opposite. This further reminds us that the aging process is about change.
According to Applewhite, “Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured. It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.”
Rather than viewing age as a physical and cognitive decline until the end, embrace the positive changes that take place as you grow older. Because remember – aging is a privilege denied to many.
“Overcome Ageism: Aging is a Privilege,” by Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.
The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain