© Copyright 2019. UnderstandingXYZ.com,  All rights reserved.
Old Anima
Scholars on Aging Series: How the way people react to and treat us teaches us that we’re old  Many odd, disconcerting thoughts surface during your sixties. It’s a time, I believe, when we start “learning to be old,” which happens to be the top-level title of an excellent academic paper I read recently, “Learning to be Old: How Qualitative Research Contributes to Our Understanding of Ageism,” by Deborah K. van den Hoonaard, from the Gerontology Department at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada.  As the title suggests, her paper had two parts. Part I was about qualitative vs quantitative research, and Part II was about ageism. In Part I, she claims that quantitative data-rich research is overly imposed on sound qualitative research practices. “The idea that we can find one right, objective interpretation of our data is a mirage,” she writes. Focusing on big data research with large numbers of survey subjects drifting in and out of research settings eliminates a qualitative researcher’s ability to achieve intimate familiarity with the people being studied, resulting in a lack of discovery and understanding. That frame of thinking set the stage for Part II, where she used her 25 years of sociological research observations to provide an overview, and numerous qualitative- and individual-oriented examples, of “how the way people react to and treat us teaches us that we are old.” For example: “It’s your birthday and people say, ‘how old are you, 29?’”  Or, on another level, she writes that: The way that we organize society and the social meaning of aging have an undeniable impact on the way we experience aging. This meaning is perpetuated by myths of aging: People either feel lost in retirement or are so busy that they don’t know how they ever had time to work. They face higher risk of criminal victimization. Most live in institutions. They cannot learn. As an example, many misunderstand and, therefore mispronounce, Alzheimer’s disease as “Old Timers’” disease. Older workers are less productive in their occupations. Old people are asexual. The old are either extremely poor or “greedy geezers.” All this wrongful thinking about older adults creates  a negative disaster when we should be celebrating the positive aspects of longer life spans in the twenty-first century. She is perplexed by this kind of thinking and questions why old people are seen in such a negative light when, in fact, they “contribute much to our society in terms of experience, help to their families, volunteering, and even paying taxes.” Moreover, just like any younger human being, older people are not all the same, so why do we see  older adults as old first and everyday people second? We may be old by number, but we are more importantly individuals with a wide variety of diverse experiences and attributes like anyone else. When we are slotted into an older adult first, society has given us what she refers to as a “master status” that tends to wipe out any other status older adults may have developed in their lives. We see this starkly when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Often, everything that had mattered about that person evaporates, leaving only the diagnosis to account for whatever the person does or thinks. Only highly prominent people seem to be able to avoid the master status of being old and then only for so long. The master status of being old reflects ageism that is premised on the idea that old people are essentially all alike. In fact, older persons are very diverse, and those over 85 are notable for their heterogeneity and wide range of experience. This pejorative “master status” has hit me hard in recent months, as I try to parlay a 30-year career as a relatively successful freelance writer and editor into a decent job that can supplement my social security income. As a freelancer, I am very accustomed to rejection from publishers, but my master status seems to have created a situation in which I am completely ignored by companies who see my old age first before my experience. All this, of course, is just another way of saying that ageism exists. So, what have I learned from all this? I’ve learned that to accept the negative old age stereotypes is a grave mistake. Despite the more frequent disappointments I’ve been experiencing, I know who I am and what I can offer, more than any other time in my life. I feel it’s only a matter of time before things get better, as long as I don’t give up and continue to think positively about myself and my skills. That’s what I learned about growing old, which can also be identified as the key to any success in life, no matter how old you are.   And if I go down instead of up, at least I’ll be able to say to myself that it wasn’t my fault, which is a whole other conversation. Thanks for stopping by, George
“A society of all ages is one that does not caricature older persons as patients and pensioners.”           - Kofi Annan from “Learning to be Old” paper) referenced below)
Old Anima
© Copyright 2019. UnderstandingXYZ.com. All rights reserved.
Scholars on Aging Series: How the way people react to and treat us teaches us that we’re old   Many odd, disconcerting thoughts surface during your sixties. It’s a time, I believe, when we start “learning to be old,” which happens to be the top-level title of an excellent academic paper I read recently, “Learning to be Old: How Qualitative Research Contributes to Our Understanding of Ageism,” by Deborah K. van den Hoonaard, from the Gerontology Department at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada.  As the title suggests, her paper had two parts. Part I was about qualitative vs quantitative research, and Part II was about ageism. In Part I, she claims that quantitative data-rich research is wrongly being imposed on sound qualitative research practices. “The idea that we can find one right, objective interpretation of our data is a mirage,” she writes. Focusing on big data research with large numbers of survey subjects drifting in and out of research settings eliminates a qualitative researcher’s ability to achieve intimate familiarity with the people being studied, resulting in a lack of discovery and understanding. That frame of thinking set the stage for Part II, where she used her 25 years of sociological research observations to provide an overview, and numerous qualitative- and individual-oriented examples, of “how the way people react to and treat us teaches us that we are old.” For example: “It’s your birthday and people say, ‘how old are you, 29?’”  Or, on another level, she writes that: The way that we organize society and the social meaning of aging have an undeniable impact on the way we experience aging. This meaning is perpetuated by myths of aging: o People either feel lost in retirement or are so busy that they don’t know how they ever had time to work. o They face higher risk of criminal victimization. o Most live in institutions. o They cannot learn. As an example, many misunderstand and, therefore mispronounce, Alzheimer’s disease as “Old Timers’” disease. o Older workers are less productive in their occupations. Old people are asexual. o The old are either extremely poor or “greedy geezers.” All this wrongful thinking about older adults creates a negative disaster when we should be celebrating the positive aspects of longer life spans in the twenty-first century. She is perplexed by this kind of thinking and questions why old people are seen in such poor light, when, in fact, they “contribute much to our society in terms of experience, help to their families, volunteering, and even paying taxes.” Moreover, just like any younger human being, older people are not all the same, so why do we see  older adults as old first and everyday people second? We may be old by number, but we are more importantly individuals with a wide variety of diverse experiences and attributes like anyone else. When we are slotted into an older adult first, society has given us what she refers to as a “master status” that tends to wipe out any other status older adults may have developed in their lives. We see this starkly when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Often, everything that had mattered about that person evaporates, leaving only the diagnosis to account for whatever the person does or thinks. Only highly prominent people seem to be able to avoid the master status of being old and then only for so long. The master status of being old reflects ageism that is premised on the idea that old people are essentially all alike. In fact, older persons are very diverse, and those over 85 are notable for their heterogeneity and wide range of experience. This pejorative “master status” has hit me hard in recent months, as I try to parlay a 30-year career as a relatively successful freelance writer and editor into a decent job that can supplement my social security income. As a freelancer, I am very accustomed to rejection from publishers, but my master status seems to have created a situation in which I am completely ignored by companies who see my old age first before my experience. All this, of course, is just another way of saying that ageism exists. So, what have I learned from all this? I’ve learned that to accept the negative old age stereotypes is a grave mistake. Despite the more frequent disappointments I’ve been experiencing, I know who I am and what I can offer, more than any other time in my life. I feel it’s only a matter of time before things get better, as long as I don’t give up and continue to think positively about myself and my skills. That’s what I learned about growing old, which can also be identified as the key to any success in life, no matter how old you are.   And if I go down instead of up, at least I’ll be able to say to myself that it wasn’t my fault, which is a whole other conversation. Thanks for stopping by, George
“A society of all ages is one that does not caricature older persons as patients and pensioners.”           - Kofi Annan (from “Learning to be Old” paper) referenced below)