08/31/2012 10:23 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

Anti-Age Laws

The BBC recently ran a piece on new anti-age discrimination laws in the UK. Although anti-age discrimination laws aren't new in the U.S., the statistics show that, while age is on the same list with sexual preference, race, gender and physical handicap, the practices that limit opportunity for people as they age suggests the laws aren't making much difference. In fact, since the 1960's, like many western countries, employment of individuals age 50 and over in the U.S. has fallen, not risen. Another BBC report on anti-aging discrimination laws in the U.S. noted that, as it's becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a working life as you age, an increasing number of claims against employers on the grounds of age discrimination reveal a growing awareness of this issue.
None of this is particularly surprising. Our society and institutions have been biased toward the young for a long time. Now as the 'Boomers' enter into late midlife, the depth and implications of this bias are becoming more and more apparent. The good news is that the same folks who fought for civil rights are having the opportunity to do it again.
I applaud these efforts. The bigger challenge, however, is not to simply wage another campaign 'against' discrimination, small-minded people and shortsighted policies. We don't need to tranquilize ourselves that entitlements and 'rights' change a culture's practices or have people do the right thing. Intelligence, morality and common sense have never been successfully legislated. Perhaps this says something about the nature of most legislators.
The fact, however, is that we "get what we resist." And if we really want to change attitudes -- and more importantly, the practices of age discrimination -- then we need to focus on what we are FOR and not what we are AGAINST.
'Ageism' is the term normally used for describing systemic and cultural discrimination because of age. When women's rights were the issue, the term 'feminism' became the rallying flag for those standing for equality of the sexes and the possibilities for viewing women as assets and not merely as useful liabilities in the workplace. How about we change the term 'ageism' into a call for action, a crusade for valuing people because of their age? Let's not allow ourselves to get sucked into having to defend and justify who we are and fight for a place at the table. Let's not stoop to becoming constituents in a political process. Let us start speaking and acting from wherever we are -- for who we are, for what we already contribute and what we will continue to contribute.
Let's make it clear in every conversation that we are the future -- along with everyone else. Moreover, let's not go quietly into the night, but loudly let our fellow citizens know that we are leaders in these challenging times and that we are engaged in using our experience and wisdom for the benefit of all -- and we do not need permission or laws to do so.