5 Ways to Combat Ageism

5 Ways to Combat Ageism


Ageism is a pervasive form of discrimination that disempowers both old and young. Explore five techniques to fight ageism, no matter your age.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the current life expectancy for Americans is 73.5 years for men and 79.3 years for women.

Our ancestors would marvel at how many more years their descendants have to experience life, spend time with loved ones, learn, and grow. Perhaps they would see our lifespan as an incredible chance to build a society that reveres and looks to elders as a source of wisdom, especially in a world so hungry for said wisdom.

Maybe they’d be surprised, or disappointed, then, to see how dismissive our culture is toward people over the age of 50; how we focus on their decline and not what they’ve accumulated—in lessons, in wisdom, in perspective. I wonder if they would see, like I do, the loss of opportunity in a society that rejects the contributions of older people instead of embracing them.

As a woman just dipping a toe into her 50s, I’m beginning to see the pernicious ageism all around us. Invisible woman syndrome is just now starting to become a topic of conversation among my friends—both the benefits of this invisibility and the aches and pains associated with it.

Ageism is real and, in large part, it is still a socially acceptable form of prejudice. Age-related jokes about senility and helplessness, our habit of hiding our elderly in old folks’ homes, and our general distaste around aging, mortality, and death all contribute to the fear that is the prime motivator behind any kind of discrimination.

Ageism Robs Us of Our Uniqueness

Ageism and the stereotypes associated with it rob us of our individuality and uniqueness. Sure, some elderly people are forgetful. Sure, some younger people just echo the last thing they saw on social media. But many elderly folks have full mental capacity, and many young people are thoughtful and innovative.

Relying on stereotypes prevents us from doing the work of getting to know people as individuals. As a writer, I love words, but words fail us when they are used to identify, divide, and reduce people down to a collection of characteristics. Stereotypes are shortcuts used to dismiss people without doing the work of getting to know them. There is so much more to get to know within all of us.

Ageism Affects Everyone

It’s important to note that ageism does not only target an older population. The younger generations experience it too, when, for example, their views, passions, ideas, and contributions are dismissed as naïve. Or when all young people are lumped into a group as if they have no individuality or freedom of thought. Generational bickering, name-calling, and belittling create division, which prevents us from respecting and learning from one another.

5 Anti-Ageism Tips

We need a movement that pushes against ageism in all its forms. Here are five techniques to fight ageism, no matter your age.

Foster Intergenerationality

A war between generations (pitting Millennials against Boomers, for example) might be fun to chat about on social media. But it’s not good for our culture. When the youth refuse to see the value of elders, and when elders reject the fresh ideas and insights of the youth, we fail to move society forward.

Within the older generations lie experiences and perspectives that can only be gained through time. While not all older people become true elders, those who do can offer their insight and clarity in a confused, cloudy world. We need to create and visit more spaces where all ages come together to share stories, ideas, and wisdom. These conversations could then result in better family life, stronger communities, and healthier, more robust businesses.

Study and Explore the Journey of Elderhood

In many ancient cultures, and in some still today, elderhood was revered, not dismissed. It was a time in life to look forward to; a rite of passage into wisdom. While our younger years are about accumulation and ego growth, the latter years are about releasing and exploring the life of the soul.

We can choose to embrace our later years and honor our movement into greater wisdom, even in a society that doesn’t honor elders, and there are resources out there to help us do it. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble by Stephen Jenkinson

  • Hagitude: Reimagining the Second Half of Life by Sharon Blackie

  • Native American, Greek, Celtic, and Norse mythology—these ancient wisdom traditions often depict elders as advisors, healers, and wisdom keepers.

Question and Call Out Ageism

If you are a witness to ageism, call it out. We need to hold it to account. We all play a part in either breaking down or furthering false narratives. The only way we move out of any stereotype is to first name it when we see it.

Notice Your Tendencies

We all have hidden biases. And the biases would like to keep it that way. Self-reflection is the key to rooting them out. Watch closely any assumptions you make based on only a few observations of someone. Consciously choose to take the time to get to know people at a deeper level. Discover the rich tapestry of human beings and the multitudes that we all contain.

Explore Your Spirituality

Aging is a spiritual process in and of itself. Delving deeply into the fears, feelings, and frustrations with aging becomes a jumping-off point to dive deeper into questions of purpose and meaning. It allows us to get behind the ego and its desires and align with our soul. And it reminds us how much of life is cyclical; that no matter where we are in the journey, we are always ripe for a rebirth.

Ageism is embedded deeply in our culture. There’s no guarantee we’ll see the end of it any time soon. But with each change we make as individuals, and any time we bring accountability to those who perpetuate ageism, we are taking away some of the power behind it. With each “joke” we refuse to laugh along with, each meme we refuse to share, and any clickbait article we ignore, we take some of the wind out of the proverbial sails of ageism and help to ensure that younger generations get the chance to grow into old age the way that they should.

Learn how to become an elder as you grow older.

5 Ways to Combat Ageism

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