It’s harder to unlearn than to learn, especially when it comes to values. The critical starting point is to acknowledge our own prejudices, and work toward making our own behavior and beliefs less ageist. The next step is harder: pointing out ageist behavior or attitudes in other people. Educating others, kindly and tactfully, sends that change outward like ripples across a pond. Silence sanctions prejudice. Change requires awareness.
Ridding ourselves of internalized ageism and raising awareness in the world around us are important tasks in their own right. Their value increases exponentially if it helps us see resistance to ageism as part of a broader cultural revolution.
Upending discrimination on the basis of age will require fundamental changes in the way society is structured. We have to come up with fairer and broader ways to assess productivity, devise more ways for older people to continue to contribute, support them in these endeavors, and decouple the value of a human being from success along any of these metrics. This social change demands that we join the struggle against racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia as well. Likewise, activists for other social justice causes would do well to consider how ageism hampers their efforts, and to raise awareness and work against it.
Discrimination on the basis of age is as unacceptable as discrimination on the basis of any other aspect of ourselves that we cannot change. Imagine the postwar generation, their children, and their children finding common cause in a fact- rather than fear-based view of growing older, and mobilizing against the discrimination that makes aging in America so much more difficult than it should be. This is about the world we want those children, who may well live to be 100, to inherit. Let’s make it one in which people can find purpose and meaning at every stage of life.