I am getting increasingly annoyed by the fact that so often younger people speak on our behalf thinking that they know all about ageing, usually based on what they have read, without realising that whatever they did read was probably written by another younger person.
The other day I joined an on-line discussion group with three people pretending to represent us. Admittedly one was an older person but she obviously lived in academia and had little contact with us genuine older people who lead older people’s lives. The whole discussion was so last century.
Someone suggested very properly that the word ‘retired’ is not appropriate, an idea for change that was first introduced decades ago, although no one has come up with an acceptable alternative. One of the bright young participants in the discussion suggested ‘retirement’ be changed to ‘re-treaded’. How insulting yet he was so out of touch with older people he had no idea that he was insulting us. The convener of the discussion, another younger person, added to the insult by suggesting it was a good idea!
Unless we older people speak out and make our voices heard the insults which are already applied to us will increase. A few years ago I joined a University of the Third Age (U3A) class and we were asked to make a list of words the rest of society used about us. The list included words such as Silly old fools, Forgetful, Childish, Antisocial, Feeble, Repetitive, Losing it and Grumpy. This is only a small part of the list. It parallels the unflattering descriptions given to women and coloured people in the past and to some extent today, although usually more subtly.
If we want to be respected and have a recognised place in society we are going to have to speak up and put our side of the story, that far from being the type of people listed above we are actually useful and play a valuable role in society. During our working lives we made a very valuable contribution to our communities in a variety of ways and can do so today if given an appropriate opportunity. If we don’t speak out labels such as re-treads will be added to the list above.
It’s going to be even more difficult to be respected and have a definite role in society if we don’t speak up. Instead of being classed as ‘retirees’ we could be labelled ‘re-treads’. No thanks.