What if there is no meaningful difference between people of different age groups? We tend to stereotype based on age, but the similarities between the groups might be more numerous than the differences. Here are some common ones:
- Naivete or innocence: A young person may be exploited due to lack of experience, but other ages fall victim as well.
- Independence: Young people can’t live alone or drive a car. Some older people are in the same situation. Commonality, not distinction.
- Appearance: Older people may start to look funny, but remember those pictures of yourself as an adolescent? You say the younger people will outgrow it? So will the elders.
- Dreams: Older people set out on the path of new dreams at every age. And some younger people just aren’t interested.
- Frailty and illness: An older person may have physical limitations, but when I was in elementary school, a classmate missed a whole year due to rheumatoid arthritis. She was infirm. She was very young.
- Death of friends and relatives wounds all of us.
- Intellect: do I even have to explain?
- We all go through physical and hormonal changes in life. Think of your own pubescence. Now think of menopause. Was either more fraught?
Yes, some characteristics are more typical of a certain age group, such as physical decline, but we certainly have a lot of commonalities. Why do we ignore those in favor of artificial differences?
I think because it’s easier. We stereotype people, throwing them into groups, because it saves us from having to see a person as an individual. We label them for our own convenience, but labels might dictate how a human is perceived or treated, leading to a huge waste of potential, not to mention heartache. Besides, labels and stereotypes change over time. One hundred years ago, in the United States of America, women were forbidden to vote. Everyone agreed they were insufficiently intelligent or rational to handle that responsibility.
Maybe someday our perceptions about age will change, too. We might come to think the differences between young and old are so trifling as to be immaterial. Why not start now? Let’s focus on what we all have in common, and beyond that, get to know each other as people. And as far as allowing those labels to limit you, stop right now. Decide who or what you want to be, and become that, regardless of age.
Your time on earth is finite and precious. Don’t waste it trying to comply with some soon-to-be-antiquated standard of behavior.
I’ll be away for the next two weeks. Enjoy your Thanksgiving! See you on December 6.