The performer steps on stage. From the front row I am captivated. Her charisma is infectious; I am hanging on every word. I feel like I am at a TED Talk -- I am not. I am at BOOM! The first conference of Boomers Leading Change in Health in Denver, Colorado. This conference is geared towards baby boomers who see the upside of aging and delivers the call to action of, "It's time to change the world again!" I am listening to Ashton Applewhite, anti-ageism author and activist. (Watch a clip of her above and learn more here!) I am listening to her talk about growing old and I am inspired.
How refreshing it was, to be surrounded by people being curious about aging and allowing for the possibility of an upside.
We are all, each and every day of our lives aging. While it may be a profitable industry, to be "anti-aging" is a physical impossibility while alive. Listening to Ashton constellated something in me.
Age is a criterion for diversity just like gender, sexual orientation or race. As with these other factors, there is rampant discrimination based on age. Much of this discrimination is internalized. In her talk Ashton Applewhite wondered why when older people lose keys we call it a senior moment, but when it happened in high school we didn't call it a junior moment. The answer? Ageism.
This internalized ageism is reinforced by our culture at large as well. Age is a diversity factor which will render all humans in the minority culture, many of us twice at the two ends of our lives. We all have ideas of what we are expected to do at a given age and what we expect from others at their ages. These generalizations can add order and efficiency to our lives but they also lead to pigeonholing and discrimination when we do not follow the set patterns or when our appearance does not match our calendar age. The best way to decrease stigma and discrimination in through awareness.
Ageism is insidious because it is largely unconscious, it is time for that to change!
I give you the asterisk.
The asterisk denotes that there is more to something. In writing it is used to send the reader to a footnote for further explanation. Let's add an asterisk to age. Our years on this planet are important, age is not something to be hidden or lied about, but it is something to add an asterisk to: there is more to the story than the assumptions that come with a number.
Put the asterisk by your name in an email signature, next to your age anytime you are asked to give it, on business cards, in store windows on bumper stickers and when possible have a paragraph explaining it so others can follow suit (see an example below). Let the asterisk become a symbol that age is a number of years spent on the planet AND that there is more to be said, our number of years does not define our life, our value, who we are or how we deserve to be treated.
The asterisk says to be curious about this human who has an age but isn't their age.
*This asterisk symbolizes my belief and commitment that humans are more than their age and that stereotypes and discriminations based on age need to be challenged within our own psyches and the world!