New Internationalist

Over To You

February 1995

Over to YOU
Many of you - from 19-year-olds to 90-year-olds - wrote in response
to our request for your thoughts on age and ageing. THANK YOU!

I hope your issue on ageing will deal with the problem of ageism. This is not against the law in the UK at present, as sexism and racism are, but it makes for a real problem in employment. My husband, a chartered accountant in his fifties, is unemployed. We suspect that ageism accounts for his inability even to get interviews. Lies and hair-dye are being considered, simply so that he can end his frustration at not being able to use his talents, ability and experience!

Isobel Shepherd (54),
London, England

I am fortunate in enjoying the blessings of a loving family, a wide circle of good friends and, as part of the Prisoner's Rights Group, a wider circle of prisoner-friends who make this remaining period the most worthwhile and useful of a long life of struggles against injustice in all its malevolent forms. But what about those who are left to a lonely existence with none of these advantages? My suggestion is to find people in one's own community who survive mainly through the personal interest and involvement of those like themselves - we are all seeking a way to be needed.

Claire Culhane,
Vancouver, Canada

The most destructive form of ageing is social ageing. This can overtake individuals at ludicrously early ages, inhibiting them from following impulses and tastes which are seen as youthful prerogatives. For instance, the 20-year-old who loves dancing but feels out of place in a disco, or the 40-year-old couple who abandon their favourite pub because it is taken over by under-age drinkers and the loud music prevents conversation. To remain an individual, not to conform to an age stereotype, requires independence of mind.

Jean Booth,
Wantage, England

I am 72. I did not realise until quite late in life that my mental picture of ageing did not match my own experience. I suspect that the wrong perceptions can lead to matching one's life to one's perceptions instead of the other way round. You can come to look and feel quite old unnecessarily. As medical knowledge increases we have an increasing chance of living active and healthy lives, perhaps up to the age of 100. Why not?

Denys Whitehead, (72),
Livingstone, Zimbabwe

Let us reject this idea of old people being a 'burden'. Any number of people on retiring look forward to a change of occupation, to tackling something completely different. Some of these jobs will count as 'gainful' employment, meaning jobs that are paid. Other people will take on voluntary work, not receiving pay and so not 'gainfully' employed, but all the same productively employed in the sense that society benefits from what they do.

Peter Little,
Henley-on-Thames, England

I am happy and contented to be old; but I want to be spared decrepitude. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to be denied old age by being kept unnaturally young. Some research seems to be aiming to have us all climbing mountains, swimming the Channel, holding down a job and having vigorous sex at 90. No thanks. I did as much of all those things as I want in my lifetime before I passed 60. Now I want to experience being old. Why is age thought about as so disreputable, as a kind of disease? What is wrong with white hair and wrinkles and a life lived adagio without stress and hustle? Why do people want to be mistaken for their daughters' friends and fiancés?

Alison (75),
Oxford, England

So how do we define age? Is it synonymous with the length of time our body has existed on this planet, or with the ability of the mind, or with the infinity of the soul? My body in its present form is 19 years old. My mind? Well, that is relative to who chooses to measure it. We seem determined to classify 'childhood', 'adolescence', 'adulthood' and 'old age' separately. Physical age is, however, often an unhelpful notion upon which we falsely base our judgements. As adults we must look inside and understand that all ages reside within the psyche of us all, and deserve equal respect, no matter what the 'outer age' may be.

Amy Kellam (19),
Cornwall, England

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

This feature was published in the February 1995 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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