What does age have to do with the Super Bowl?

For too long, I’ve been quiet on a topic I feel very strongly about–ageism.
Like sexism, racism, and every other prejudice, I believe that ageism is wrong!
I was deeply offended last Friday night when one of my favourite commentators was questioned about the fact that John McCain declined President Obama’s invitation to watch the Super Bowl in the White House.
When asked if it was a snub, the commentator said she didn’t think so. She said he’s only an “old man” who wants to watch the game in his apartment, “like my father.”
I was completely astounded that the commentator could be so disrespectful of the man who easily could have been the president of the United States for the next four years.
What if John McCain had been president! Would she have referred to him as an “old man” for the next four years? If not, why call him an “old man” now.
It’s lapses like this that make older people distrust themselves.
The online Wikipedia encyclopedia defines ageism as “the stereotyping of, and discrimination against, individuals or groups because of their age. It is a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age-based prejudice and discrimination.”
The word was coined by gerontologist Robert N. Butler in 1969 to describe discrimination against seniors “patterned on sexism and racism.”
Butler defined ageism as having three parts:
1). Prejudicial attitudes toward older people and the aging process.
2). Discriminatory practices against older people.
3). Institutional practices and policies that perpetuate stereotypes about older people.
Butler, a world-renowned gerontologist and psychiatrist, received a 1976 Pulitzer Prize for his book “Why Survive? Being Old in America.” His most recent book is “The Longevity Revolution,” published in 2008.
He is now president and CEO of the International Longevity Center–USA.
“We need to be thinking differently about aging,” Butler said in a 2006 New York Times interview.
People are living 30 years longer than they used to. That means there are not only more older people, but more “youthful” older people.
Yet in spite of these facts, Butler points out that, “Daily we are witness to, or even unwittingly participate in, cruel imagery, jokes, language, and attitudes directed at older people.”
Ageism is hard on older people. It affects their self-confidence and sense of usefulness. And, in the long run, even their health.
According to Becca Levy of Yale University, persons who have positive perceptions of aging live an average of 7.5 years longer than persons who have negative perceptions.
The saddest thing of all is that many people develop stereotypes about older people at very young ages, said Levy. Thus, they enter old age with negative attitudes towards themselves and their peers.
To help counteract this prejudice, the International Longevity Center and Aging Services of California recently provided a 50-page booklet entitled “Media Takes: On Aging” as a public service to more than 10,000 media professionals. This stylebook is designed to help journalists, producers, directors, writers, and advertising agencies “proactively combat stereotypes.”
On the cover in small type is this line: “aging is an active verb, a process, not a label.”
Words do make a difference in our perceptions. So, whatever your age, think about how you can help end ageism by respecting yourself and other people.
And don’t ever let society’s stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecies for you.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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