First for my children, then for women, then for older adults
We lived in Woodstock, GA. when my daughter, who was in the 8th grade, brought home papers to review for her science test. I started going through the questions
Me: Neanderthal man is a humanoid with rickets? WHAT?
Sondra: That is what the teacher said.
Me: The earth is only 5000 years old. If it were older, it would be covered in solar dust. WHAT?!
Sondra: That is what the teacher had on the overhead, Mom.
Me (as I am meeting with the principal): Have you ever heard of the Scopes Monkey Trial? The teacher (science teacher!) is teaching evolution. Of course you know that is illegal.
The Principal & Science teacher: Well, that unit is over. We just won’t count that test grade.
When my children were young, my advocacy was on making sure they got a balanced, and expansive education. From the above story, you can see why I felt the need to be involved and an advocate for them.
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I was raised to be socially conscious. I had been involved in anti-Vietnam war protests. I was young during most of the civil rights protests, but I was very aware of what was going on. I had been active in election politics and the Women’s movement. My children even attended rallies with me. I always felt that we had a responsibility to be involved in advocating for protecting people’s rights.
But when did I start to recognize the bias against older people? I was surrounded by highly competent older people, in my Rotary Clubs, with my parents and their friends. I did not see older people as lacking opportunities or as less than.
It was not until a few years ago when, at the age of 64, I was laid off as the Director of Training due to a merger and acquisition. I was also asked to train my replacement.
I looked around for a year or so for a comparable position. There were not many places that even wanted to talk to me because I either had too much experience, or my salary requirements would be too much. Those were generally the stated reasons.
One can only guess at the unstated reasons. Would an older worker fit into the environment? Would they be technically capable? Would they leave after a short amount of time?
I finally settled on a position with a Sylvan Learning Center. Once the pandemic hit, Sylvan shut down and I was unemployed again. At that moment I had to ask myself, “how did I want to feel?” I wanted to feel relevant. I wanted to feel that what I did mattered. I wanted to still make a difference. I started Hey, Boomer as a vehicle to make a difference in the lives of other older adults who listened to the show. It was my new advocacy platform.
Advocacy does not come easy. In my opinion, angry advocacy tends to alienate the people we are hoping to win over. I believe we have to engage in conversation and find common ground. The Stanford Social Innovation Program has done a lot of research and work around reframing the way we think, speak and act about aging. In focus groups, researchers found that participants, no matter their age, never identified as “older people.” They always thought of older people as “them” not “us.”
Frameworks Institute teamed with the John A. Hartford Foundation on reframing the metaphor about aging. They found that “comparing aging to a process of “building momentum” changes how people understand aging and helps them see how the force of experience and wisdom enables older people to improve their communities. By casting aging as a dynamic and forward-moving process and emphasizing the accumulation of “force” and “energy”—the momentum we gain as we age—we can help people see aging in a more positive light.”
How we frame issues matter. Live Life in Crescendo, the last book by Stephen R. Covey and his daughter Cynthia Covey Haller, is another reframe of aging. The premise is that our most important work is always ahead of us.
Changing the Narrative, led by Janine Vanderburg, has an abundance of resources to help us reframe aging, along with cards to help us celebrate aging with positivity rather than degradation.
I am on a mission to support and inspire older adults. This is one of the areas I am advocating for at this time. We are learning and sharing stories and finding new beginnings and confronting endings and transitions. We are evolving rather than retiring. We are defining what this next stage of our lives will be like.
Where is your advocacy taking you?