Ditch those old stereotypes

  • AMANDA ROUNDS / edge correspondent
  • Monday, October 2, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

You pass them every day. The man at the grocery store. The woman outside the post office. Your next-door neighbor.

On the road, they seem to be everywhere. You can yell "Come on, grandpa" all you want, but they still drive the speed limit.

That’s right. The elderly.

The stories of teen-agers being mistreated and stereotyped are endless, but we aren’t the only age group that suffers from being put into little boxes.

Senior citizens are frequently labeled and categorized with words and names that couldn’t be further from the truth. And, hypocritically, while teen-agers constantly fight prejudice and ageism against themselves, we seem just as guilty as everyone else in stereotyping the elderly.

In most cases, it isn’t even something that a person is aware of doing. For instance, what comes to mind when you are asked to picture a 90-year-old woman doing something she likes to do?

Do you see an elderly woman crocheting in front of a television screen? Or do you picture a woman gradually making her way up the side of Mount Rainier?

The thing that everyone needs to realize is that senior citizens are, just like every other age group, a highly diverse group of people. The elderly people on TV are about as well represented as teens are.

The media tries, but just like the picture of the 16-year-old gangster on the news, the image of the elderly man content to watch CNN for an entire day just can’t be taken as a representative of the entire age category.

It’s true that some senior citizens do fit the popular labels: forgetful, grumpy, sick and in need of better driving skills. Just as some teen-agers fit the common adolescent stereotypes: irresponsible, obnoxious, dishonest and, oh yeah, in need of better driving skills.

But just because some people fit these types, remember that most people don’t. Thousands of people over 65 still have excellent memories and good attitudes.

Perhaps the least fair stereotype of older people (and the one those of us under 18 use most often) is that the elderly are boring.

And while the labels of "health problems" and "bad driving skills" can be justified and explained, this "boring" thing just draws the line.

Unless the definition of the word boring has changed, I don’t believe it compatible with the words "over 65." For those of you who may not know, the population of senior citizens is not made up of cribbage-playing, Ensure-drinking clones.

Just like teen-agers, the elderly are people who have individual personalities and interests. Their activities range from water-skiing to painting to fighting crime, and are not limited merely to cards and television.

And even those who do spend a majority of their time playing pinochle might not believe it the highlight of activities: They could be interested in wood carving or bungee jumping and just not physically be able to do it.

Basically, what I want to say is don’t judge people; especially if you don’t want them to judge you. Give people a chance, even if they are more than half a century older than you.

Ageism is stupid. To quote Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: "General notions are generally wrong."

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