On the Corner

By Robert Docter

I now know what discrimination feels like. Not good!

I felt it in the ugly odor of ageism recently directed at me. Like every other form of prejudice, it is based on an assumption of negative difference–in my case, my age. Other prejudices base their forms on such matters as race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or almost any system of categories the human mind can devise to isolate some from others in a group.

The prejudiced person assumes that every member of a group fits his/her negative stereotype of the group.

Prejudice makes its stench evident through blended combinations of stereotyping and overgeneralizing. Often, it is motivated by an irrational fear–sometimes jealousy–usually anger. The fetid stink of ignorance’s breath spreads on a noxious cloud throughout any social system which by silence permits its presence. The product of prejudice is alienation, interpersonal hostility, misunderstanding, suspicion and distrust.

Prejudice promotes no positive product. Nothing good comes from it.

Prejudice’s roots intertwine as suffocating ganglia around the hearts and minds of those it owns. It invades so thoroughly that logical thought escapes, empathy flees, respect vanishes, and any sense of common brotherhood disappears.

With me, it happened like this…

A dozen or so people, most of whom I have known for a few decades, were gathered in a meeting designed to share information and ideas. The group sought the name of someone for a particular task, and one of the members placed my name in nomination. It was a task with which I had considerable prior experience. On hearing my name, the group’s leader said something like: “Nah … He’s past it.”

The group was silent. They said nothing. Finally, one of the members said: “Sounds like ageism to me.”

True! This was not an assignment I sought, needed or desired. I interpreted the words used by the leader in rejecting the nomination as implying my cognitive powers had deteriorated–or that my age no longer made me suitable–or that I was physically unable to fulfill the responsibility. Had the leader expressed his views in any way that could have avoided such an interpretation, this column would have been written about something else. But when confronted with an issue like this I cannot remain silent. It’s not my style. And, while both the words of the leader and the silence of the group hurt and disappointed me, what is critical for me is to examine the underlying attitude of a younger generation about the feelings and competencies of those approaching late adulthood.

Oliver Wendell Homes once said: “To be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be forty years old.”

At age sixty-eight I stand poised on the edge of seventy–seventy years young. I’m never bored with life–what I choose to make my work excites me and energizes me–I believe I make significant contributions in every aspect of my life–I am still shaping my dreams–my marriage continues to grow, and I am never happier than when I am with Diane–I am still in love with her–my family is a wonderful support system, open, sharing, positive, loving , and they like each other–I still read voraciously and have more confidence in my cognitive ability, my sense of judgment and discernment, my ability to communicate and teach than I did ten years ago–I exercise regularly and maintain a strong cardiovascular system, good flexibility and growing strength–my health is excellent–I’m satisfied with my appearance–I have a few intimate friends with whom I can share anything and many close acquaintances–more than anything, I sense the presence of God in my life more powerfully than ever before–and I strive more honestly to practice that presence.

As the above paragraph implies, I’m convinced that one of the great fears of those whose age contains high numbers rests in the results of ageism–where others assume that one has “past it”–and that, as a result, they will be denied opportunities to experience life to their fullest potential.

Once upon a time to be sixty-eight was to be old. Disabuse that thought. Such is no longer the case. I have never heard the word wisdom associated with 35 year olds. People my age continue to make remarkable, creative, important contributions to society.

As Picasso said: “Age only matters when one is aging. Now that I have arrived at a great age I might just as well be twenty.”

The night hath not yet come: We are not quite cut off from labor by the failing light; some work remains for us to do and dare. (Longfellow)

There has been nothing in my life to hint that I will enter “that sweet night” with anything but a brass band. My hope is, that we may all grant the same opportunity to any who desire it.

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