Ageism Is Not A One-Way Street
Ageism is a form of stereotyping and/or discrimination based upon a person’s age. It has often limited older adults from employment opportunities and leadership positions in organizations because of a feeling that older individuals are not as healthy, sharp, or able to function effectively as someone who is younger. When this thinking is applied without considering other factors, both the individual and society loses because significant talent goes unused just because age has become an arbitrarily limiting factor. No doubt, there are older adults who have declined cognitively and/or haven’t kept up the necessary education or skills to perform up to a standard, but that can’t be determined by age alone – because some younger people don’t meet that standard either.
It should be recognized, however, that ageism is not a one-way street. Many older adults deny themselves job satisfaction because they automatically assume that a younger person can’t possibly know enough to be an effective boss. This kind of thinking negates the fact that there are many bright young people who have added to their brightness by recently getting exemplary training, and they may also have the necessary personality and/or philosophical attitudes that can drive an organization to success. Also, even if they have had fewer decades on earth, many young physicians, therapists, coaches, attorneys, carpenters, plumbers, and politicians are exceedingly good at what they do. To assume that you will get a better result from an older person simply because s/he is older is a form of ageism.
Although they can sometimes be circumvented, there are laws that are aimed to reduce ageism. There is no longer a mandatory Retirement age, for example, unless it can be demonstrated that age has a legitimate role to play in job performance. Our hearts and minds, however, can play a more important role than any law can in reducing ageism. The best way that I know how to do it is to have a range of friendships that encompasses the age spectrum. The more people that we know from various age groups, the more we are likely to see them as individuals and to disregard their ages as a significant factor in our interactions with them. That will enable appreciating people for who they are. Our attitudes toward each individual can then be driven by our assessment of their strengths, relative weaknesses, personalities, and other variables – without giving undue attention to age. I suspect that approach will reduce ageism and thus make the world a better place.