I Am An Elder!
I recall the occasion of my thirteenth birthday when my older (18 year-old) brother pulled me aside and said, “You know, now when they talk about how terrible teenagers are, they are also talking about you”. I had just become part of an age group that was widely disparaged and slapped with labels like juvenile delinquents, hippies, and hoodlums. There were other pigeonholes that also were part of the vernacular of the day: protester, draft dodger, preppie, and flower child. At thirteen I was now eligible for one or more of the stereotypes of the day. This was the 1960’s and the world was at once simpler and more complicated. This was the decade of Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the Space Race and several heart wrenching assassinations.
Now, those of my generation are facing new labels, stereotypes and pigeonholing. I hope that the lessons we learned through those turbulent years of protests and activism serve us well now. Yes, we are Elders! We have experiences and knowledge. Some of us even have wisdom and an eagerness to share it.
Many of you reading this have likely realized some time ago that you are an Elder. Silly as it sounds, this just occurred to me recently. In all of my teaching and advocating I continued to think of Elders as those I must serve and protect, those who may lack a voice to speak out against the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom. I have stood on the side of families who wanted something different for their loved one and for the employee care partners who knew that things needed to change. With my new realization that I, too, am an Elder, this just became more personal.
What fun it is to once again don the mantle of a protester and stand shoulder to shoulder with others fighting the currently acceptable “ism” of ageism. Just as we once fought for the rights of minorities we must now stand for the inherent value that comes with Elderhood. We have railed against the kind of discrimination that designates a group of people as other, inferior, and second-class before. We know that this is a battle for hearts and minds and we are uniquely prepared for it.
Now I more fully appreciate the institutional memory that comes from living in this American culture for sixty years. I recognize that all of these experiences have given those of my generation the muscle memory that it will take to make big changes in the attitudes and assumptions of our greater society. The Boomers can be a force of nature. We have long been told about the enormous consumer power of our generation. I would suggest that we use this to relentlessly demand a paradigm shift that empowers and enriches the lives of Elders.
We have been down this road before and we remember how persistent were the roadblocks. Oh yes, we have been disruptive before. That Fickle Finger of Fate has designated us as instigators and I think that is just fine.
In fact, I think it is Far Out!
Jean Mensendick is an Eden Educator and Culture Change Consultant