How Ageism Affects You
"You can either be bitter or better about growing old" and I say this at the expense of sounding corny.
How, then, does one get better at growing old in a culture prone to ageism? That's what this blog is about.
If you type the word "ageism" in google's search engine, it pulls up over three and a half million results. Ageism, like racism, sexism, casteism, and most other ism's, is a crippling and ugly, worldwide reality.
Are you over forty and feel discriminated against due to your age? Do you find it more prevalent in your workplace? Or is it closer to home, with friends, children, or grandchildren? Or is it particularly pronounced when you are in public places, especially in a grocery store?
According to demographic research, until the 19th century, no country in the world had a life expectancy longer than 40 years.
Although our average life expectancy has more than doubled, it might be posited that our lives are emotionally shortened by age discrimination.
A question for you: Are you an ageist?
When you try and answer the question, keep in mind that your immediate mental response might not reveal the whole truth. So I suggest that you take the time to sit with this question.
And we do want the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us, God, right? Sorry, I think a little levity might come in handy, as we delve into this sensitive topic.
Before objecting that you are not susceptible to being ageist, let me confess that, until two years ago, I was not conscious that I was one. I will expand on this with a delightful story later on in this blog. And just so you know, I am presently 52 years of age.
In our pop-culture society, once people become aware that they are in their elder years, they can begin to feel victimized. Self-pity and resentment start to develop in our minds, and this creates an insidious dis-ease, so to speak, within us. Unconsciously we begin to expect preferential treatments, which can lead to what might be called "entitlement traps."
Most of us, let us say about 80% to 90%, can do something about feeling victimized. For starters, all you may be able to do is to realize that you can do something to change your feelings around feeling like a victim. And believe me, that is an excellent place to start.
The next step is to be willing to examine your thinking and feeling, and this requires honesty on our part. Most of us would balk at the idea because it is convenient and less painful to point away from ourselves.
"The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude."- Oprah Winfrey
Just to be clear, the topic we are discussing is ageism. I do not want the above statement to be equated with the other nasty ism's, such as casteism sexism or racism.
Age, we sometimes hear, is how old we think we are. I would like to build upon this by asking you to examine how you think. FYI, I do this, too.
Examining our thoughts and feelings requires:
a) monitoring our self- talk, and
b) understanding the difference between mindless chatter and clear thinking.
When you start to pay attention to how you think, you become aware of what you think and how that affects you. This will reveal the negativity in your thinking.
Negativity predominantly enters into our lives in two ways:
1. Peoples' remarks, opinions, projections, and fears often come to our consciousness from well-meaning parents, teachers, siblings, friends, peers, etc.
2. Unmonitored negative self-talk and chatter that perpetuates paralyzing self-doubt.
The latter is far more dangerous than the former. Why? Because you and I cannot control what others say or do, including our loved ones. However, you and I can control our own thinking.
Controlling our thinking is not easy. Nevertheless, it is an art that needs to be mastered if we want to be genuinely happy. Controlling our thinking is also necessary to fulfill our soul's calling.
Regardless of how successful, influential, and happy a person may appear to be, all humans are affected by self-doubt, if not daily, at least from time to time.
Self-doubt is a human condition and a human affliction.
The best of the best among us see this condition for what it is, and they do NOT let their self-doubts stop them from living out their true potential. Nor do they make their fears drown out their dreams and aspirations from being achieved.
"Everything you want in life is on the other side of fear." - Jack Canfield
Growing old is part and parcel of life. It is a fact that our body ages! Changes such as wrinkles, age spots, and blemishes happen whether we cover it up with makeup or a facelift.
Wouldn't you like to feel comfortable in your own skin? To do that, owning and loving the aging process is essential for growing into a happy and satisfied soul!
Isn't that what we truly want, to age like fine wine?
In our celebrity culture and social media mania, most of us can quickly sink into feelings of envy, comparison, inadequacy, and become emotionally trapped in such beliefs.
Don't let someone's else reality be yours!
And never let someone else's achievement, including what you have achieved, limit your life.
Life is limitless! For life stems from the Source of all creation, which, although unfathomable, is teeming with abundance and intelligence.
"Our Conscious Intelligence Is As Much Of Life As We Understand." - Ernest Holmes
The things we take for granted today, such as our smartphones, a small device the size of our palm that has transformed our day to day lives, was unthinkable just fifty years ago.
A hundred and fifty years ago, such a device and today's technological advancements would have been assigned to the realm of magic or supernatural and would have been dismissed by most of us as unrealistic.
What is being realistic, anyways?
Being realistic, in our post-modern world, often borderlines on pessimism. Being realistic, however, is neither about being a pessimist nor an optimist. A realist can see things and situations for what they are. He or she knows that the future can swing either way, depending on one's choice, behavior, and action.
When we are told to be "realistic," it often comes from well-meaning people who are afraid or shy away from living their true potential. Even worse, it can come from mean people who do not want you to spread your wings and soar high!
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt
Just so you know, I am not equating the above reframing of being realistic with not being responsible. This is a whole different subject, and it might require another blog to differentiate the two.
Are you ready now to hear my story about being an ageist?
My young neighbor, I will call her Mia for the sake of privacy, is about 5 years old. The incident that I am about to recall to you happened a couple of years ago.
When Mia first started speaking, a few years ago, Russill and I were amused, but it was hard for us to understand what she was saying. Exceedingly smart, she was also very engaging, making eye contact to share whatever was in her mind and heart. It was just the way the words came out: adorable, but utterly incomprehensible to me.
One day, as I was chatting outside with her mother, Mia tried telling me something that I simply could not understand for the life of me. Interestingly, she realized that I could not understand her. So she went indoors and came back outside sporting a child's sunglasses. She looked at me long and hard through them without a word, and then slowly took them off and hung them on her tee-shirt. It was as if she said to me, "You don't understand me, and that's just fine with me!"
For this was a bit of a zen moment. It dawned on me that I could choose to suspend my prejudices by recognizing that they are like a pair of spectacles that I can hang up when I want to.
Often, when we are older, we don't understand the norms that are trending. We separate ourselves from what we see and hear. This is part of the problem of aging. We forget that we've got our own sunglasses on. It would help to take off our sunglasses, a symbol of our bias, and appreciate what's trending without trying to understand it or press the need to implement it in our own lives.
We may not consider our playful, well-meaning, nevertheless restrictive attitudes and behaviors towards people younger than us, as being ageist. All the same, it is a form of discrimination.
The insight from my story: "ageism cuts both ways!"
I am not implying that the level of age discrimination between the different age groups is the same. But maybe it is time to start changing to look at traditional ways (that no longer serve us) of growing old and connecting with people younger than ourselves.
I am passionate about aging, particularly the biology of aging, which focuses on understanding the cellular and molecular processes underlying these changes and those accompanying the onset of age-related diseases.
Why is this important to you? Because research shows that diseases related to aging will pose immense social and economic problems in the future.
Do keep in mind aging itself is not the issue here. Still, it is a significant risk factor for developing numerous chronic diseases. And the double whammy is that certain diseases may accelerate the aging process, thus reducing functionality and quality of life.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "Age is the single most relevant risk factor for developing neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline."
And the good news?
Despite the naysayers, we live in the most promising of times. Research and development in all sectors of life are astounding. This is true of biological and neurological sciences as well, enabling us to dramatically improve the quality of our aging process.
I work with students from their forties all the way to those in their nineties. When my students start the process with me, they view their more evident issues (weight gain, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, etc.) as independent matters.
My job is to help them understand that this is not the case. These separate issues are part of a larger whole and that there are significant other areas they are not looking at.
Together, we start to look at these missing areas and create a blueprint for wholeness that we work towards. Each step of the way, I offer simple yet effective methods to assist their process and achieve their goals realistically. I also provide the tools to enhance their overall well-being and customized recipes for their particular tastes and needs.
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"A stitch in time saves nine." - An old English saying since 1732
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