by Joseph DiBenedetto
Often times millennials, like myself, forget we are products of our environment just as other generations are shaped by the era of their own upbringing. We can at times be quick to judge older people on their appearance, pace, and intelligence. We may assume older people are culturally out of touch and unwilling to embrace new world changes. We may even be unaware of our routine normalization of ageism when we feel inconvenienced by an older person’s different technological learning pace, desire to remain in the workforce, and sometimes well-meaning questioning of 21st-century culture.
Growing up in an interconnected web-based society, we are taught unintentionally to quickly analyze not critically analyze. Information travels at lightning fast speeds and spreads exponentially in our world. We tend to believe much of the information that passes through our computer screens, especially if it aligns with our values. As a result, we have been socialized to prioritize expediency over quality.
I would like to challenge my fellow millennials: to slow down; to stop and take a moment to put down their devices (after reading of course); and to go actively engage with someone from an older generation. If you try your best to be present, you will find there is harmony and transformation within our mutual humanity. The interaction, relationship, or bond, may not be perfect, but I guarantee you will learn something.
During my short time with TheRadicalAgeMovement, I can honestly say I have formed genuine and long-lasting bonds with people of various generations. I have come to realize that while we come from all walks of life, have various life experiences, carry very different social identities, intergenerational bonds are authentic and life-changing.
When forming these bonds, do not forget that this is a mutual endeavor. Older adults are not the other; they are our future selves. Ageism is very real, very deadly and very unforgiving. Older adults are increasingly at risk for abuse, extortion, and isolation. Many find their worth in the workforce diminished and their financial reserves depleted. Remember these are people who have lived full lives, put decades of energy into this world; and while they have much to offer, now feel degraded, worthless, and isolated. Ageism is what I like to call the silent “ism”. It is the one oppression that will affect us all, yet is often given a back seat and easily dismissed, especially in larger contexts when talking about oppression.
If there is one thing millennials are good at it’s making our voices heard! It’s time we draw upon our skills and use them to legitimize the severity of ageism. Older adults fought for our future, now it’s time we do the same for them and for our future selves.
Joseph DiBenedetto is a 2nd-year graduate student at Silberman School of Social Work. He interned with TheRadicalAgeMovement during his first year and is going on to an internship with the ACLU.
TheRadicalAgeMovement is a national non-profit based in New York City that rejects long-standing misinterpretations of aging. Our goal is to end these misperceptions and skewed attitudes toward aging so that people of all ages, races, classes, genders, and sexualities can participate productively in areas of cultural, professional and community life.