Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview of a woman who has written a book about what she calls “the last acceptable bias, age”. The discussion gave me pause, because though I know that we are a youth obsessed culture in the US, I hadn’t fully appreciated all the nuances she spoke to.
For instance, those who insist we cut spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid deny the aging population who have paid into these programs for all of their working lives and also those who find themselves infirm and impoverished (in the case of Medicaid). They are engaged in ageism. Are those who would do away with these benefits planning on not getting old? Never getting sick? I know only one solution for the aging problem and it’s an untimely, early death. Let’s face it, each day that we are blessed to open our eyes and take a breath, we are a day older. It is just a fact of life.
I will proudly tell you I am almost 60 (45 days but whose counting?) and I color my hair. I’ll explain that don’t like the washed out dirty blond/brown color with strands of gray, that it’s not flattering to my completion or eye color. Is this really true? Maybe. Or is it I don’t want to look my age? I think my husband would find me beautiful anyway, but I wouldn’t like it. No, no, no! I prefer to believe coloring my hair makes me look younger. I want you to say, “Wow, Cate looks great for her age.” What’s that? What’s my age got to do with it? Can’t I just LOOK GREAT? I am vain and fight “looking my age”. And that is ageism. I am doing it to myself!
When I think of hiring coach or mentor, I want to partner with someone who has lived enough life to understand my life. My most recent coach is young enough to be my daughter, but like me she has lived “a lot of life”. She can relate to me, I can relate to her. Age doesn’t apply. Experience, wisdom, humility and a willingness to keep growing is what mattered to me when I asked her to be my coach.
Though I have many young colleagues, friends and clients who are doing great things in the world, when I think of women I most admire, I tend to think of women my age or older. Take Hillary Clinton, for instance. I admire her every time I think of her, hear her or see her speak. (Though I criticize her hair color and style, “What is she thinking?” I ask. There is my judgment again of how I believe her hair “ages” her beyond her 63 years. There’s my ageism hanging out all over this woman!) Why do I admire Hillary? She stuck by Bill through the worst events of his presidency and when it was all over she didn’t flee to Nantucket to grow roses for the rest of her life (as I claim I would have done in her place). It appeared to me that she felt no shame in standing by her man, even as she pursued her own political career, Senator from the great state of New York, serious contender for the democratic nomination for president, and Secretary of State. Yet she still has time for Bill. I heard him interviewed recently and he said that he and Hillary DO text when either are traveling abroad and that they make a point of spending every weekend together. That is admirable and adorable!
So if I want to be like her when I grow up it’s about time I grow up and do it. No, I’ll never have her education, I can never do anything like or near what she has done, but I still have time to cultivate the qualities I admire in her that I may not be fully expressing. Fortitude, resilience, transparency, strength, brilliance and (best of all) she doesn’t give a good damn what ANYONE thinks of her as long as she knows she is in integrity with her core values and living her passion. I like that. I want to be that. That is age-wisdom.
Back to ageism. What about women and men who don’t aspire to greatness well into their retirement years? What if Hillary had decided to grow roses on Nantucket and open a small law practice on the side? Would she be less deserving of my admiration? Who am I to judge what her gifts might be and how she should use them? Does the person who retires quietly and plays Canasta become instantly “old” and worth less? Or worse, the person who becomes infirm and can no longer care for themselves not worthy of my caring? Is any human being on the planet worth less than another for any reason? Don’t we all deserve love and respect regardless of our age, accomplishments or status?
I plan to stay in this conversation of age, age-ism and age-wisdom and lovingly bust myself when I compare myself to others because of what I judge anyone else should or shouldn’t be doing with their young or old lives and notice if I’m caring how old they “look”. If we’ll admit it, we compares ourselves to others constantly. Maybe that’s how we make sense of our place in the world and in our community, but it seems to me that it doesn’t serve our highest good.
What would it be like to leave age out of it? Rather than bemoaning the passing of time, what if we celebrated and practiced deep gratitude for our aging? How would our lives be different?