We’re all scared of growing old, right? Wrong. Aging is something that we have to look forward to because with aging, comes new experiences. Too many people view aging in a negative light, however. They see it as the inevitable nearing to the end. But, how old are you really, if you don’t actually know how old you are?
What I mean by that is there are numerous ways to think about your age. Age does not have to be solely defined by the chronological number of years a person has inhabited this earth. There are other types of age such as biological, psychological, social, and functional. Why limit ourselves to dreading each year we add a number to our lives when we can instead, appreciate the new knowledge we have gained?
Because there is this seemingly important social clock that we all like to abide by, we place value on our lives based upon social norms, rules, and typical roles. It is especially the case for older adults who think that as they age, they can no longer play a certain role, but they must change and conform to another that is more socially accepted. This mindset can absolutely be detrimental. It can cause individuals to feel older, simply by acting like it. While many of our senses do diminish as we age, there is so much more to live for than that. This mindset and conformity, can, and usually does, result in huge stereotypes surrounding older adults.
There were nine examples given for common stereotypes regarding older adults presented in one of the recorded lectures we reviewed. I’d like to give my personal opinion on a few of these and share a couple of stories along the way.
- More Alike
The first stereotype was that older adults are all alike. Clearly, that is not the case. For instance, in talking to my grandparents I can see that even though they have been together for a number of years, they still have very distinct characteristics. My grandfather served in the Vietnam War, and my grandmother worked as a receptionist. My grandpa is a huge sports fan, and my grandma struggles to sit through any sporting event. As you can tell, they are markedly different people who have lived through different experiences that shape their personalities. Although they do have many commonalities too, they are not homogeneous, as goes for the rest of the older adult population.
There is this notion that because older adults retire and no longer hold a job, they are somehow unproductive with their life. That may certainly be the case for specific individuals, but it is not the case for all. My dad’s mom is one great example of this. She has been retired for as long as I can remember, but I would argue that at times, she’s even more productive than I am as a college student! She leads an extremely active lifestyle and is constantly running around doing various errands or entertaining guests at her house. Although she does not get paid to do these things, she still manages to stay busy an productive. If she did not go along efficiently, she would not be able to get half as much done as he usually does. Some older adults even choose to go back into the work force because they want to make sure they maintain and uphold values of productivity. Their choice is usually not even dependent upon monetary compensation. I think that the emphasis on money determining productivity is a big problem with this stereotype in general. Many younger generations see money as the only source of productivity when there are many sources in reality.
This might be one of the biggest stereotypes I hear about in regards to older adults. This one also probably makes me the saddest. I hate to think about older individuals, especially my own family members, feeling that they are lonely. It is true, that as we age we lose an increasing number of important people in our lives, but that is not to say all is lost. A lot of older individuals find solace in joining groups, taking classes, volunteering, or other such activities. For instance, my grandma enjoys volunteering at nursing homes or animal shelters. As I mentioned before, she also entertains numerous guests throughout the week at her house. It is always so lively whenever I visit, which makes me realize that loneliness is not an inevitable factor of life as we age.
Seeing these things first-hand has helped me to realize that there truly are a lot of misconceptions about old folks. It has opened my eyes to the fact that they are not necessarily factual for every single person. Each individual lives a separate life that can not be grouped into one large all-encompassing category. Because of this personal experience, I’ve become a huge advocate for changing the ideas that the younger generations stick to. At times, it can seem like we are more rigid than we make them appear to be. How ironic.
Not all countries have these views, however. There are many that do not hold these stereotypes. These are in stark contrast to some other countries that look at the elders of the community in a high regard. They emphasize the aging process because, to them, it means a more prestigious title than they had earlier in life. For example, in Korea, they have been known to celebrate the old. The Japanese and Chinese cultures do the same. They prize filial piety and see it as the basis of life, whereas Western cultures are widely seen as “youth-centric”. The idea of collectivism helps those Eastern hemisphere countries to maintain their importance on the older adults.
Check out this link for more on how other countries view aging adults:
Lastly, I leave you with this quote to think about as you perceive the “old folks” and make your judgements:
“The tree of knowledge and the fountain of youth are one and the same”