I’ve already received a couple of great comments regarding things that were on people’s minds. The first that came in was from Kathy. She wrote: “Obviously because of my job being eliminated, here’s what’s on my mind: people in our society 60 years old and older and [their] financial security (or lack thereof). I have the skills to get another job, probably at a lower salary. But what of the millions of people who don’t have marketable skills and are struggling. They’re not poor, they’ve worked all their lives but now are seriously struggling. What as a society do we do for them?”
Let me share a few thoughts about what we can do for our sisters and brothers over the age of 60 and then invite you into the conversation.
The first thing that Kathy’s comments draw to mind is a difficult reality: that some marginalized groups get more attention than others. Many of our conversations regarding oppression these days focus on things like racial/ethnic background, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and – to a lesser degree – gender. One of the most overlooked issues of our time is ageism.
So how do we change that?
The easiest way for that to begin to change is for individuals to do what Kathy did: tell our stories and name our truths. As a member of the LGBTQI community, one of the things we taught the world is the power of sharing our stories through a process called “coming out”. As more and more of us came out and talked openly about our experiences of discrimination and oppression, things began to change. I believe if more people over the age of 60 began sharing their experiences and challenges related to the way society treats them, our sensitivity and awareness would grow. And out of that, public policy most likely would adapt to meet emerging needs as well.
Let me stop here for a moment and share a reflection based on my years of service as a pastor. Over the years I’ve notice that many folks over the age of 60 don’t share their painful experiences. They keep their frustrations and challenges to themselves. As a result, they often internalize some degree of shame and despair.
I’ve heard stories, for instance, about how some doctors are quick to dismiss the medical concerns of seniors by saying, “You’re just getting older. What do you expect?” I’ve heard others denied training opportunities because the training events were targeted to “those under 40”. These experiences cause those over 60 to doubt themselves and feel invisible.
Sadly, we in the church often play into ageism. A church full of 20-somethings is often publicly praised – while churches that have too many “white hair-eds” are ridiculed or dismissed. I’ve seen denominational bodies such as associations and conferences add extra committee assignments to younger clergypersons – while completely ignoring the gifts and graces of those older clergy who have retired. In my own denomination, we have given MUCH attention to clergy who are in their 20’s and 30’s: all the while ignoring those clergy who are over the age of 50 (much less 60). Imagine the outcry if secular corporations were so blatant in their efforts! If we in the local churches want society to change and value older individuals, then we need to start doing that ourselves!
So the first step, I would say, is attitudinal. We must begin changing attitudes and values by having the courage and willingness to be vulnerable and share our stories.
Secondly, we need to take action. First and foremost this means that if we encounter experiences of discrimination based upon age, we need to report it so that legal action can be taken to hold individuals (and corporations) responsible.
Second, I’m a big believer in a movement known as buycotts. Unlike boycotts (which seek to penalize companies that do things we don’t agree with by avoiding their products), buycotts are about rewarding businesses that do the right thing by intentionally purchasing their products.
Kathy’s post motivated me to contact the American Association of Retired Persons to see if they have a published list of those companies that do an exemplary job in employing and supporting older Americans. When I get such a list, I’ll post it on my blog. Buycotts can be a VERY effective way of encouraging businesses to do the right thing.
The third thing that we can do is work to provide ongoing training skills in our local churches and community centers that keep older workers up to date on job skills. Local churches could balance the parenting classes they offer to young parents with technology classes for seniors. And in addition to offering grief support groups for seniors who have lost their spouses, we could offer employment support groups for seniors who are in the process of vocationally transitioning.
If we work together to change attitudes; empower people to hold employers legally accountable for their discriminatory actions; and provide more resources for those over the age of 50 as they negotiate ALL of life’s challenges then I think we could move into a world where ageism is minimized and people of all ages and skill levels can be valued.
Of course, the things I mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg. What other ideas do you have for how we might individually and collectively support those over the age of 60 who are facing vocational challenges and transitions?