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July 28, 2020

We are Age Proud!

Age Proud Leeds has been a super campaign, recognised countrywide. And one of the key elements of it has been your decision to raise awareness of what Ageism does to us all.

Do you recognise the similarity with racism and the Black Lives Matter movement? Or for that matter, the Gay Pride campaign? For all of these movements challenging the stereotypes that cause harm is an important part of the campaigns.

Here in Leeds you too have done it by being proud. You are saying” I am Proud to be Old”. “Our City is proud of us, its older citizens” “We are valued and give value.” That age is a great stage of life has been recognised! A bit of a surprise to many of the public isn’t it, when they discover that the human happiness curve peaks at 73, and stays high! There is even a second peak. A good one! The people who say they are most satisfied with their lives are in their 90’s. And we all, if we aren’t unlucky, get to live the new active Bonus Years.

Ageists are sad people really. They are afraid of a future they don’t understand. How can they? They haven’t got there yet, don’t know what a really happy phase of life over 70 is, do they? You in Leeds have been highlighting the damage they do to us and themselves by relying on a stereotype picture of later years. Big issues, like worry about wrinkles! They need to see them as laughter lines and the value of life experience lines, don’t they?

You have highlighted the problems of jobs, right to work, health inequality, accessibility and the kind of problems like transport that can lead to social loneliness. And you are quite right to do it.

We must tackle those by challenging, by showing better solutions, and helping those who can’t see it; that it is their own future they are prejudicing. Their loss too! They need a large band of Age Proud citizens to show and tell! It is our responsibility to be Age Proud, stand up and let them see the real us, the maturity, the experience, the skills.

Now let me tell you the really big challenge. It is ourselves! We have to see ourselves with pride, haven’t we? But do we always? Really? One of the main problems of Ageism is that we are victimised and if we aren’t careful we take on that victim role. We moan, we complain, we are upset, but we hear their view of us and if we are not careful, we also accept it for the truth. We start judging ourselves by their version of later years! We unconsciously internalise that stereotypical view of old age. We let them tell us “Young is Good. And therefore by implication, “Old is Bad”

Strong stuff! This is similar to the way Gay Pride and the Black Lives Matter movements have encouraged their communities to be positive about their identities.

We have to recognise that we too have a part to play. We have to fight our own internal battle. Not hear those insidious voices telling you that you are less in some way…. Ask yourselves these questions:

  • Have you ever worried about grey hair? Why?
  • Do you ever feel pleased if someone tells you are “Young at heart”? Why?
  • Do you ever feel that you must buy “Anti Age creams”? Why?

It is so hard to realise, isn’t it, that we have all been infected with Unthinking Ageism of this type? But it is there in our unconscious heads, the ageists have spread their virus and we have unknowingly caught it!

At an Age Proud Conference last year, (not in Leeds), I told a lady at my table that I was 84. What did she say? “You don’t look it” and then nearly died of embarrassment as she realised. So many kindly meant compliments that are actually ageist!

May I leave you with this action plan? You have raised awareness of the problems caused by open Ageism, brilliantly. Now root out the hidden unthinking Ageism that lurks in all our heads. Challenge it, laugh at it, tease wryly, But don’t let it continue, be brave, be Age Proud. It will fit well with the next stage of your project!: Older, Different, Equal.

Let’s stop the stereotyping, and let’s stop taking on the negative ideas about ourselves too!

Joyce Williams