Don’t let age differences get in the way

That I’d anchored SportsCenter in my youth did nothing to prevent one of my former students from saying I was too old to teach sports reporting.

Most of us understand that people should not be discriminated against because of who they are. In fact, there are hate laws protecting people against bigotry based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability.

But there is one big category missing. How about discrimination based on age? (There is, of course, a law banning ageism in the workplace, but here I’m talking about the social implications of the issue.)

Ageism is generally understood to be a dislike that focuses on older adults. But why? Shouldn’t mature people be respected for the wisdom they’ve acquired over their long lives, knowledge that if shared can help younger folks be happier and more successful?

Asian, Native American, and Indian cultures, among others, respect their elders and, in fact, celebrate older adults. But venerating the elderly seems almost nonexistent in the U.S. The question is why. Some of this attitude—as is the case with most prejudice—is based on stereotypes. Older people are considered slow workers, poor drivers, hard of hearing, unable to embrace new technologies, and generally weak and unattractive. Ugh!

Alice was my dear friend, despite the decades that separated us in age.

Now I’m not saying older people don’t also harbor ageist attitudes against the young. As a Baby Boomer, I’m embarrassed when my peers mumble derisively about the “younger generation.” I want to yell, “Don’t you remember when our parents said the same things about us? How they didn’t like our clothes and hair and music and political views?” Still, while agism can go both ways, today it generally tilts toward the denigration of the elderly.

I ran into this problem after teaching a course in sports reporting at Arizona State University. At the end of the semester, students are encouraged to rate their instructors and one comment hit me hard. “Next time ASU hires someone to teach sports reporting, they should hire someone younger!” I was 67. That I’d worked as a sports reporter and anchor at five TV stations both locally and nationally, including a stint at ESPN where I anchored SportsCenter, and had been a print reporter for three magazines and three newspapers, did nothing to up my stock. It was only my age that mattered. (It might have been my gender, too, but that’s for another time.)

I thought about that critique for a while and then recalled something I did back in my forties. I’d been sent to interview a woman who was a competitive swimmer. She was 64 and I remember gushing about how amazing it was that she was still swimming “at her age.” She was kind and polite, but there was a look on her face, bemusement perhaps, that I didn’t understand at the time. Later, when I turned 64 and was still swimming laps, I finally understood. She didn’t feel old or act old, and yet I’d labeled her that way.

I know we can do better, and I think a good way to do that would be more social mixing of the generations. I was fortunate in my youth to have several older friends. One in particular stands out. Alice was my rocking buddy. We met when she was in her seventies and I was in my thirties. I would head out into the Arizona desert with Alice where we wandered along wild washes, hiked up and down mountains, and frequently got lost in our quest for mineral specimens. We were still at it when Alice was approaching 90. I never thought of her as old. Ever!

Getting to know one another is the key, I think.  So, let’s not allow stereotypes to get in the way of what might become a beautiful friendship.

Find Anne Montgomery’s novels wherever you buy books.



4 thoughts on “Don’t let age differences get in the way

  1. Susan Carlson says:

    Anne, the swimmer you describe wasn’t Mary Lou Skokes, was it? She was awesome…. a competitive swimmer back in the 20’s and a participant in the 1934 Olympics. She was a golfer, too, and did both way into elder-age. She passed away at 101. She lived at Friendship Village and it was fun hear her stories of being one of the first female competitors in the Olympics. Our elders have stories that too important to miss. I know… ’cause now I am one! I always enjoy your blogs!


    • annemontgomeryauthor2013 says:

      I’m embarrassed to admit, Susan, that I don ‘t recall her name. It’s in my files somewhere. Her expression stayed with me for years. Now I know why. That said, I’m glad you like my stories. 😉


  2. sharonledwith says:

    Great post, Anne! One way for the younger generation to connect with the seniors is to visit nursing homes. They are truly living time travel portals. Cheers!


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