Pia Hyppönen - No Labels, No Walls, No Age
Have you ever taken part in a survey? An article in the English version of Helsingin Sanomat published on the 12th of October 2014 states that, “Over 80s not allowed to have their say in surveys”. I don’t know if this is still the case, and I am not sure, if I should call myself lucky to fit into the bracket of 15-79 year olds. As it happens, nobody has called me recently to ask for my opinion, but here it is anyway: Not letting people have their say based on their age is Discrimination. Discriminating against people based on their age is ageism. Our society is, (this really means: we are) ageist. What makes the opinion of a 15-year-old more significant than that of an 80-year- old? Don’t get me wrong, this is not against 15-year-olds’ expertise on life, we all know they know everything. What we don’t know, because we don’t ask, is what we might need when we get old, and what it is like to grow older. Why don’t we ask? Why do we rather shut out those who do have the experience? I think we are scared. We fear the labels we have attached to age. By labelling ourselves or other people according to the year of birth and all the connotations that go with it, we are building walls. They shut out new experiences, learning and growth. My mother is 70. Somehow, she missed the information demographic change gives us, that 80 is the new 60. She turned old when she blew out the last candle on her 50th birthday cake. She believed the myth that people over fifty are old and soon useless. And so, believing this for the past 20 years, she has not been a happy bunny. Hands up: who loves getting old? Who loves standing in front of the mirror, happily counting grey hairs and wrinkles? Who is excited about putting on weight just by looking at a piece of cake? Well, I am not entirely, but I wouldn’t want to be 15 or 25 again either. I can do without the Weltschmerz attached to that age bracket. Life gets easier with 50. The hair and wrinkles? Thanks to my developing presbyopia I can’t see them, let alone count them. I accept them, as part of the process, I won’t dye them or get them botoxed. I don’t really care about age. But you can make my day, if you think of me as ten years younger. We are starting to understand that age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. We grow older, that’s just a fact of life. If you don’t like it, consider the alternative. Preferences, needs and abilities often change with age but we also know how to stay mentally and physically healthy for longer. Having said this, isn’t it ageist to think that only a fit senior is a good senior? Isn’t it ageist to assume that ‘old’ equals dementia? Sickness? Wisdom? Experience? Fragility? Loneliness? And isn’t it ageist to assume that youth means the opposite? It’s not the amount of years that count, but what we do with them. Every generation has its problems and solutions. Often, they repeat themselves because we haven’t learned from our past. With all those people over 79, there is an ever-growing pool of knowledge and experience out there, that only can come with time. On the other hand, I observe an amazing ability to self-reflect in young people. To judge and exclude people based on their age is not only ageist, it is also very short sighted. We are sitting in the same boat. If we learn to listen to and learn from each other we can make it.