I’ve recently watched a video with Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, dedicated to fighting age discrimination. It’s from 40 years ago and the interviewer will be my age or older now. I wonder if she thinks differently now?.
The interviewer begins by asking what Maggie thinks of the terms: golden agers, mature Americans, senior citizens, the aged, the elderly.
Maggie says why not call us ‘old people’ and liberate us from the fear of old age, or growing old, or age itself.
>> I go along with Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks who talks about younger people and older people. We don’t need these other terms. Maggie also talks about the responsibility we have of being older, to work for the public interest, to change laws, to work for peace, to protect the environment, these are all signs of being a wise older person.
This is the difference to me with people who are properly mature and stepped up to the role of older and elder; and those who remain as teenagers with a focus on pleasure.
The Gray Panthers were set up in 1970 to protest about the Vietnamese war. At the time of this 1983 broadcast the focus was the elimination of age discrimination, ageism and gerontophobia. Gerontophobia is a sociological term that means fear of old people and of growing old.
Maggie wanted people to look forward to getting old, to eliminate age discrimination.
We are all aging since the moment of birth. We are all born, mature and die. We will all get wrinkles and grey hair. We should see them as badges of distinction.
“People who have lived through youth and midlife and who have survived all the changes that we’ve seen, and triumphed, have a certain historical perspective. And a certain strength and authentic maturity that gives you strength. And that, I think constitutes a tremendously important resource for our country and for the world”.
The interviewer then asks should we not try to remain youthful.
“Why not enjoy our wrinkles? To deny our age, to lie about it, to take all these elaborate precautions to hide it, seems to me to be in bondage rather than liberation”.
Maggie also talks about being forced to retire (it was mandatory back then). This means that experience and skill are lost. The older workers experiences and, and their historical perspective gives continuity. She says “if we kept the old and the young together in the workplace, the workplace would be more human, and that the young would feel less threatened, and that the old would have a place.”
There is a focus on intergenerational working now.
We are defined by what we do and so if we are retired, we are seen as a ‘non person’ as the focus is on profit. We can continue to learn, to update our skills. We can seek out flexible and part-time work. People should have a choice to retire, or work.
She also said that people can also focus on knowing more, paying more attention to current affairs, and this can enhance their self-esteem and self-image.
She also talks about shared housing. As many older people want to stay in big houses, for them to be matched with other people so they can live as a family. Far better this than what she calls ‘playpens’ such as the large retirement communities who don’t even want children around.
We should not deny our responsibility to those who come after us. If we are the elders of the tribe, then we’re concerned about the tribe, the youngest and the most vulnerable should be protected and loved and cherished by us.
I see a lot of my thoughts around ageing within her comments and I wish I’d got to know her.
I’ll be developing thoughts around this starting next year. Got a book to launch first!
And my purpose
My new passion, my new mission, my new purpose in life, is to get people thinking that Old age is not something to fear.
Too many people fear it. I want people to see older life, later life, being older, as something to look forward to, and we don’t have to worry about dying our hair, or having ‘tweakments’, or whatever. We can embrace this new stage of life.
As we embark on our own journeys into later life, let’s be inspired by Maggie’s mission to change the narrative surrounding aging and look forward to the beauty of growing older. Stay tuned for more discussions on this topic.
Dr Denise Taylor is a Chartered Psychologist and Vision Quest Guide, specialising in retirement transitions and elderhood. Regularly featured in the media, she is the author of 8 books including Find Work at 50+ and Now You’ve Been Shortlisted.
Next book Rethinking Retirement for Postive Ageing due out 8 November. Sign up for pre-launch freebies:
- Award winning coach with Amazing People
- Working with people at 50+ – The 50 Plus Coach
- Finding meaning, nature-based retreats and retirement– see Denise Taylor website