A Reflection on Ageism

I am seriously thinking about lying about my age. Of course it’s impossible. The internet has my age engraved in perpetuity.

I notice the difference immediately after my most casual face-to-face social revelation of the “number”—even if it is merely a reminder to my friends and my children. The change in expression is immediate, and the processing in the receiver’s brain, while subliminal, is obvious.

In a flash, I have changed my status from respectful and collegial to “over the hill,” someone to be tolerated, politely and diplomatically endured, but no longer consequential. The reaction is typical and understandable. It is built into the life cycle, a generational flaw that carries few exceptions. It is hard to reeducate people to the notion that humans are not like socks, where one size fits all.

What I have begun to realize, and which has motivated me to write this screed, is that whether deserved or not, one’s number reveals one’s category. My category and those of my peers sends the message that I am to be tolerated, but I am irrelevant. Unfortunately, this is a form of bias that closes the door on the wisdom that only firsthand experience can convey.

The fact is that my “number” and upward is shared by many people who are still very much involved, active participants in busy and arguably important human endeavors. We may be merely statistical survivors but we are still out there, a senior cadre of wisdom and experience that cannot and must not be consigned to the rubbish bin of contemporary history. We are still climbing the hill and are not yet at the summit heading downward.

We have witnessed good and bad choices by politicians, journalists, academics, and various leaders in other occupations that collude to create our culture. We have observed their many follies and their successes, and we have walked through the mountains of the last century’s corpses. We have seen the stupidities of unworkable ideologies, and the glories of science that have vastly improved our health, longevity, and lifestyles.

In the U.S., there are six million of us in the number category of which I speak. Yes, some of our group are incapacitated physically and mentally. But millions are still heavily involved in contemporary life, contributing our experience, insight, imagination, and creativity to make positive change in society.

There may be skeptics who believe I am offering conclusions based on narrow personal experience, but I am willing to bet the barn there are millions out there who will testify that I am not alone in my assessment.

I am as active in my career as ever. My daily writing habits have not changed. I continue to write my novels, plays, poems, and essays and do what writers do, which is to conjure ideas, fashion them into stories, and communicate the results to potential readers.

I do confess that I am not as agile or as flexible as when I was a 23-year-old soldier in the Korean War or as formidable as I used to be in other areas requiring more extreme physicality. But I have not yet reduced my twice-a-week Pilates exercises and can still claim a robust fantasy life.

Nevertheless, when I do honestly reveal my “number” to an inquisitive stranger, especially those of a younger demographic, I note an instant revision of their attitude. I am instantly reminded about every cliché about ageism that afflicts the culture, from Charles Dickens’ Aged P character in Great Expectations to the real-life possibility of bureaucrats deciding end-of-life options.

Aged P, for those who don’t recall this wonderful masterpiece by Dickens, was the father of John Wemmick who instructs Pip how to socialize with his aged father: “Nod away at him, Mr. Pip; that’s what he likes. Nod away at him, if you please, like winking!”

Consider what can be learned from someone who has lived through the better part of the 20th century and on into the 21st, a witness to events that would seem to a millennial as beyond imagining. Indeed, everything that has occurred in the long lifetime my number implies—and having seen with my own eyes the ups and downs of the past—offers lessons too invaluable to be dismissed.

To throw that demographic of which I am a proud and lucky member on the rubbish heap of irrelevance is a critical mistake. Technology may radically change many things, but personally witnessed and lived-through experience tells us that human nature, however we manipulate and extend life, however we attempt to change the rules of human engagement, however much we destroy and hopefully rejuvenate our environment, however long our planet can remain populated by the human animal, our basic nature with all its contradictions and propensity for good or evil will remain the same imperfect specimen.

I can hope only that this message resonates beyond the periphery of the words in this issue. Perhaps those who bear my number and beyond will be regarded with the frame of “listen, consider, and learn.”

Oh yes, my category. I was born seven months after “Lucky Lindy” made his solo flight over the Atlantic to Paris. It was a helluva year. You do the math.

Warren Adler is the bestselling author of 50+ novels, hundreds of short stories, plays and essays including The War of the Roses, Private Lies and Random Hearts. He recently launched Writers of the World, a campaign featuring new and established writers, regularly shares his advice to aspiring writers, and is considered a pioneer in the digital publishing world.

Discussion6 Comments

  1. Mr. Adler,
    As someone 38 years into a freelance writing career, at age 66, your post spoke to me, like an old friend saying a kind word.
    Thanks for the pep talk!

    Joe P.

  2. While searching to find where I may submit my own “musings” on aging, I came upon your article. Yup, what is up with society thinking once we’ve turned that corner that we are no longer viable, thinking, feeling, productive? Admittedly, I was one of those who didn’t quite respect the aged as I should have. And now that I’m at that age, I get it. I actually just started a Blog about my own aging – soon to be 65 and am freakin’ out!! – and hope to generate interest. I’m not schooled in the literary field, haven’t a degree, never been published, and certainly not an established writer . . . so who would be interested in my thoughts? I decided whether I have followers or not, I will continue to write. Besides, I crack myself up. Writing is my passion and I can’t think of anything better than to spend my retiring years doing what I love most – write. My new mantra: Just because we’re aging doesn’t mean we’re old – find a new meaning. And so I shall.

    Thank you Sir.

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