We need to take a different approach to ageism reform. It’s time to “talk the walk.”
As counterintuitive as this may sound, consider how the approach improved the plight of gays in America.
The remarkable progress made in gay pride and rights — one of the most significant cultural movements of the past few decades — is due largely to self-empowerment. Yet, a series of high-profile public-awareness campaign style tactics has also contributed massively to marginalizing homophobia.
It is as remarkable as it is brilliant that something so universally beloved as the rainbow has come to symbolize gay pride. (At least one account attributes its origin to a San Francisco artist and flag maker in the seventies.) To associate this positive, non-threatening thing of natural beauty with the gay pride movement, could be a case study in any public relations textbook.
Activists also smartly introduced (and continue to append) terminology that is more contemporary, relatable and instructive: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and so on.
TAKE PRIDE, FOR EXAMPLE
Older adults and the groups who advocate on their behalf need to take more initiative and be more creative when it comes to reforming ageism.
Foremost is to embrace the axiom, “the best defense is a good offense.” The older adult population is a valuable, growing resource – one that needs to be exploited. Constructive application of all this available time, experience, financial stability and the desire to repurpose later years in life demonstrates a strong social contract. Encore careers, volunteerism, mentoring, neighborhood watching, et cetera help dispel age-related stereotypes about older adults being irrelevant, unproductive and burdensome.
At the same time, “aging” terminology is desperate for a facelift. Unfortunately, “aging” has become synonymous with the negative aspects of growing older (thanks in no small part to purveyors of “anti-aging” nonsense). Fortunately, there is a worthy new identifier already entering the lexicon.
“Longevity,” which literally means long-life and endurance, and which is already associated with “revolution” and “dividend” and other positive aspects of growing older, makes perfect sense. Even better, it sets the stage for a natural “call to action” for the aging movement: “Longevity Rules.”
The longevity movement can lay claim to two other very positive words — “experience” and “generativity” – to define long life and its inherent value.
As suggested in an earlier Humble Sky post, it is also time to put to rest the anachronistic “retire” and “retirement.” The more inspiring “repurpose” and “repurposement” declare longer life is more about new and different types of contributions than about checking out.
Symbolically, what could be more appropriate than a tree to represent healthy, purposeful longevity? As it grows, a tree provides nourishment, shade and majesty for current and future generations. It creates a natural, positive identification; and though a tree is not as colorful as the rainbow, the image certainly projects better than (older than) dirt.
The Greek historian Plutarch said, “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” With an assist from other words and symbols, changing society’s attitudes and actions toward older adults can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.