Yesterday I dressed up as a Fortune teller at the Halloween-themed 8th birthday party of my great-niece. I used my crystal ball and told fortunes for the kids and their parents. I overheard, “Wow, how did you hire a Fortune teller?” and “That’s my Aunt Vicki!”
I was convincing. This is a gift of age, to be convincing. As a young person, I remember not being taken seriously. I recall the anger I felt toward adults and their biased assumptions about my intellect and my personhood. I felt this at 16.
Forty years later, the general assumption is that I don’t play anymore. If I’m dressed as a Fortune teller, I must really be a Fortune teller.
“A lot of our ideas about what we can do at different ages and what age means are so arbitrary — as arbitrary as sexual stereotypes. I think that the young-old polarization and the male-female polarization are perhaps the two leading stereotypes that imprison people. The values associated with youth and with masculinity are considered to be the human norms, and anything else is taken to be at least less worthwhile or inferior. Old people have a terrific sense of inferiority. They’re embarrassed to be old.
What you can do when you’re young and what you can do when you’re old is as arbitrary and without much basis as what you can do if you’re a woman or what you can do if you’re a man.” –Susan Sontag
Every stage of life has its limits and its freedoms. In our own lives we can fight the battle against allowing others to define us. The bigger problem is how our culture pushes us to define others. From a global perspective, nearly half of the world’s population is under the age of 25. That makes the young the dominant force for change and the elderly a rarefied resource.
If we fail to get past ingrained ageism, directed both inward and outward, our community viewpoints will be flat, narrow and divided, and this constrains our accomplishments as a culture.
If we start rehearsing the end of ageism, we will eventually get there. That’s my prediction.