Stephen Burke: intergenerational activity is crucial.
We live in historic times. Recent momentous events have led to substantial progress in tackling racism and sexism. The murder of George Floyd and the prosecution of Harvey Weinstein have been significant tipping points in long-standing fights to end injustice, discrimination and prejudice.
That said, what does this progress mean for stopping ageism? Will the devastating impact of coronavirus on older people have a similar mobilising effect?
Although ageism affects us all, I think it’s fair to say that the campaign to end ageism is still in its relative infancy.
As is often said, ageism is discrimination against our future selves. Apart from the obvious truism, this statement also contains another truth: that ageism starts from within ourselves and we need to address this. It’s a particular challenge to older people not to let society’s norms or prejudices limit our own ambitions, the communities we live in and the services we use.
How we as older people see and talk about ourselves will shape how others see us. Positive language and mindsets, as the Stop Ageism campaign has identified, are a key starting point.
But ageism doesn’t just affect older people. Many younger people say that their lives are limited by ageist attitudes, their talents and skills are overlooked. I think people of all ages would empathise with this.
That’s why United for All Ages believes intergenerational interaction is crucial to raising awareness and changing attitudes. The younger we start, the better – before negative ideas are formed.
For example, linking care homes and nurseries has many mutual benefits for older and young people – from improving quality of life and care to reducing loneliness and boosting confidence. Building relationships between different generations through regular activities together is a great way to build mutual trust and understanding and to smash myths and stereotypes that perpetuate ageism.
Imagine what difference we could make long term if every nursery, school, college and university had an intergenerational curriculum.
As the campaigns to end sexism and racism have shown, it’s also important to mainstream the issues and get the support of the most powerful players in our society and worldwide. When will we see and hear our media, companies and employers, sports and music stars, and politicians for example challenging ageism? Perhaps when they realise the huge costs of ageism to our and their worlds?
Progress is inevitable – this is a clear lesson from history. It’s up to all of us, whatever our age, to help make it happen and accelerate change when the tipping point arrives to stop ageism.