Ageism is a growing problem in Western Society. The recent movie, “The Second Best Marigold Hotel,” stars a cast of my favourite older British actors playing the roles of seniors living in India. It also really highlights the prejudice some people of senior years experience or even voice themselves.
It’s a shame that the movie, funny and poignant though it is, is marketed to the silver tsunami crowd, complete with some subtle jokes on ageing. It could so easily have been a great opportunity to more vigorously confront the problem of ageism in our society, rather than accept it, and then celebrate the innate energy, humour, capabilities and wisdom of people of all ages.
Ageism is the most tolerated form of discrimination in Canada. A poll two years ago found that eight out of ten Canadians believe that seniors aged 75 or older are less important and more ignored than younger generations. Additionally, six out of ten seniors felt they had been treated unfairly because of their age. The report concluded that “ageism is not an old person’s problem, it is a societal problem.”
Many dedicated agencies and families are working to meet the needs of seniors for good food, companionship and meaningful activity. But, the greater need is for a fundamental change of view – wherein we see the value of every individual, regardless of age.
I saw for myself the stark need for this change of attitude in the experience of an elderly friend of mine. Mary had been consigned to a wheelchair for a short period due to an accident. A mentally and physically fit woman, she was always bubbling over with intelligent conversation, deep spiritual insights and wonderful humour. However, during this period, she was dependent on her daughter to help her get about to do her errands. What she discovered was that when bank tellers or grocery store staff viewed her silver hair, combined with her sitting in a wheelchair, they considered her incapable of responsible conversation. All questions and dialogue were directed to her daughter. Because of how they viewed her age and lack of mobility, Mary was invisible. It was tempting for her to get frustrated and angry at such treatment.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she was infinitely gracious. She explained to me that she had discovered and cultivated grace through a lifetime of prayer which enabled her to feel valued and divinely loved, even in difficult circumstances. Experiencing this unconditional love enabled her to express that grace to others and to patiently, but firmly, insist that she could speak for herself.
A deep conviction of her innate spiritual worth led her to understand that neither age, nor the accident, could deprive her of grace, intelligence, or other capabilities. Rather than seeing these as merely personality traits or special attributes she had gained with age, she saw them as spiritual qualities everyone inherits and can express from the divine Spirit. How Mary saw herself struck me as the key to combating this problem of ageism.
Dr. Ellen Langer of Harvard University has a caution for all of us in how we view ageing. Her decades of studies suggest that how we see it, for ourselves or others, clearly frames how we experience it. And, that’s a warning to each of us. When we ignore, joke about, or belittle seniors, we are discriminating against our own future.
What Mary taught me is that the spiritual foundation in which she rooted her thought – of being divinely, eternally loved, as Jesus taught – allowed her to overcome age discrimination toward herself and others. Mary’s attitude also enabled her to recover her mobility quickly and return to being a vital member of her church and community.
We all have talents and qualities to contribute. They are never lost, but rather grow as we gain deeper insights into the nature of God and express them in our daily lives.
Watching the Marigold Hotel movie, I could not help but think of how society works so hard to reinforce confidence, respect and self-esteem in younger generations. But every individual – regardless of age – needs to feel that. Everyone has the right to know that they have something to contribute, and to feel that spiritual connection that tells them of their infinite value.
Read another article on aging HERE
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE