Lately I’ve been noticing ageism. Not directed toward me, but as an ambient part of our culture. As a person born in the years that mark the “Baby Boom,” I understand that two generations might not understand each other. But, at this end of the telescope I understand something else, too.

When we’re young, we generalize the WHOLE WORLD based on what we ourselves experience, perhaps more in our “break away” years than any other time in our lives. I understand that now; there is no way — regardless of how intricate, labyrinthine our painful was our childhood or youth — that we KNOW that we are generalizing or that our experiences of other people are limited just because our exposure is limited by the number of years we’ve been on the planet.

My own mom was extremely fearful, provincial and conservative. In many respects that’s not how she WANTED to be, but scary stuff had happened early in her marriage and she was holding on tight to what she had. I can’t begin to know everything that went on in her mind back when I was a teenager and my dad’s MS was rapidly worsening.

When I was older I understood it better. She grew up on a farm in Eastern Montana during the Depression in a family with 9 other kids. They were poor. My grandma was a Mennonite without a community. My grandad was a self-taught philosopher. Mom never learned to ride a bike and she didn’t drive until she was 42. What did her childhood experiences mean to me, in suburban America, the child of the upper middle class with everything I could possibly want? It meant nothing. I couldn’t begin to understand it. I could see that she couldn’t understand MY world. She’d never lived in it.

More important, she didn’t want to. Plenty of people in her generation moved forward with the changes; she didn’t. It was a while before I understood it wasn’t THEM. It was HER.

It can be argued that we never live in our parents’ worlds, but I think there was a very radical difference between life in rural Montana in1938 when my mom was 18, and a Colorado Springs suburb in 1970, when I was 18.

One big gap now is technology, or so says Time Magazine and I agree. I have had to keep up with technology because of my profession but now, retired, I choose what I don’t want to deal with and what I do. I honestly don’t want to deal with electronic concert tickets or Siri telling me to turn on my radio at 8:15 in the morning and suggesting a station. I don’t want “Alexa” or any of her brethren in my house. I’d LOVE an Apple Watch, but I can’t afford it. I even kind of hate my smartphone and often leave it behind. My voicemail doesn’t even work here in the San Luis Valley and I’m OK with that. I’m not obsessed with “connectivity” except, maybe, escaping it. Is that a Baby Boomer thing? I don’t think so. I think it’s a Martha thing.

MEANWHILE back to the original idea of this weird rambling post — generation gaps. I think Baby Boomers really took that idea to heart whether it was a real thing or not. I think they expect it now. Other generations? Well Gen X took theirs to heart, too. I don’t blame them when at least one good novel came out describing them (Generation X), an awesome film (Clerks) and, IMO, the BEST music. Sadly, it’s a generational distinction that put them under the shadow of hyper-achieving Baby Boomers. The thing is, there were a LOT of Boomers. Truly, the competition was already FIERCE. I was there. Born smack dab in the middle, well, it wasn’t always pretty. The older ones got the best jobs and there were still a LOT of us left to take the crumbs. Gen X, we relate. We kind of ended up in the same crowded, exploited, boat.

A friend of mine on Facebook invited me to join a group of older people who, in the way of some Baby Boomers, are seeking solidarity with each other, community, enlightenment, and cohesion. Their recent thing is, “How would we like to be labeled?” I don’t want to be labeled. Recently on Twitter an enraged Millennial went off on all the Baby Boomers who are — with the help of Grendel (old 45) AND Pelosi– NOT LISTENING TO MILLENNIALS and DISENFRANCHISING THEM.

I was thinking of what it would have been like for me to be a young person today with my same mom. Would she text me? Would she get involved in my COLLEGE education? Would we have the close/hands-on kind of relationship I know many of my Millennial students had with their parents? If she’d been a Boomer and I a Millennial, she would have learned to drive in high school and there would have been much more chauffeuring around than I experienced. I would have missed a lot of long walks and bike rides here and there. The autonomy I had as a kid was related to her not driving. There are probably a lot of other things that would have been different. I’m glad she wasn’t that involved much of the time. Shudder.

I know how it is to be young and want everything RIGHT NOW. I guess by 67 most of us have probably learned we’re not going to get anything RIGHT NOW and a lot of stuff never arrives at all… But these young people have gotten a lot of stuff RIGHT NOW thanks to technology.

Last night I was thinking that when we depend on others for our happiness were fucked. Seeing ourselves as a member of any generation is insipid and limiting. I was thinking that if we could drop the generalizations and expectations — or regard them as theories instead of definitions of reality — we could solve a lot of our problems. Racism would vanish. Women would be paid the same as men. People would be respected for their merit and achievements. Objective problems would become objective problems not matters of opinion. Kind of Utopian, I know, as it seems we’re living in a time that seeks to categorize and divide, not unite.

39 thoughts on “Ageism?

  1. And I still cannot ride a bike, I wonder what that means. In any case we really do write our conntributions at the same time, although probably we are about 7 hours apart in time.

    • It’s pretty funny — I write in the morning before I have to start anything, and you seem to write in the afternoon when you’ve finished everything. I don’t think riding a bike means anything, but in my mom’s time (and maybe your place) bikes weren’t very practical. My mom’s family had horses. 🙂

    • Thank you! When I confront strong bias and ignorance, I just kind of walk away. I couldn’t do that when I was teaching. It’s a nice luxury to have now.

  2. “categorize and divide” I have to agree, and occasionally, I catch myself doing some of that categorizing – I think we may be programmed for that….ageism.

    • Yeah I think we are. Our lives are complex and categorizing things (superficially) simplifies things. 😦 I wrote this because yesterday I had dealing with a Millennial. I felt the schism. She could not know I taught her generation and (generally) like them. She was uncomfortable and feared judging. It wasn’t a really fun moment. I think the big thing is that we Boomers are a little scary.

  3. Absolutely brilliant! Martha. You summed that up exceedingly well. I have become more conservative as a result of my disabilities especially the eyesight and with the advent of a cart my daughter bought me, am now able to get around and the freedom is astounding. The one thing I love is having grandchildren. That alone keeps me up to date on the current lingo, devices and technology. I’m with you. I really don’t need nor miss using any of it. I got my first cell phone a week ago. My son thought I should have once if the power goes out so I can call for help if needed. It gave me a sense of relief. It is surprisingly easy to charge, and I’ve managed to use it a few times to contact people. Having said that, I still don’t understand the compulsion to walk around or drive with it in your hand. It’s not the end of the world if you wait a few minutes to talk to someone. Is it?

  4. One of my basic beliefs is that it’s on the adult(s) to do the heavy lifting – a child and young people don’t quite have the capacity to grasp an older generation’s pov or experience, as you mentioned. If someone’s gotta be the adult in the room, it should be the adult/older person. My mom couldn’t understand my environment growing up but as the adult she should have made a good effort to grasp the times and figure out how to deal with the gap so it was bearable for both of us. Outside domestic situations, we older folks helped create the environment the younger people are in and so, again, on all levels I think it’s on us to help guide and understand our young.

    • I agree. At this point I appreciate deeply what my mom and her generation gave me though, as a young person, I couldn’t see it. It was like the amniotic fluid of my existence; invisible and pervasive.

      I was always amused when my Millennial students thought they invented computers because they’d always had them. But, youth has that kind of arrogance about its competence and that arrogance is necessary or how would we ever launch ourselves? I remember when I was about 35 noticing all my 40 something colleagues had developed kind of a shell-shocked expression. When I hit 42 and the cannons started firing, I understood.

      My favorite generation to teach (and many of my friends) were/are Gen X. It’s interesting because when I started teaching, I was teaching my own generation then the evolution into yours. Yours was great — couldn’t wait to get their hands on something, to try it, really ready for a challenge and to give me a good challenge, too. As your generation evolved away and the Millennials (not nearly as independent or curious or eager) teaching changed a lot.

        • The cannons — life, debt, needing a promotion, marriages falling apart, biological clock alarms going off, menopause (for some of us), the whole mid-life crisis thing. As I recall those of us in our 30’s really figured we were the shit until suddenly BAM! Around 40, like, “Whoa, this is my LIFE, this is what it’s going to be. There’s no ‘somewhere’ I’m going to reach. I’m nothing but a grain of sand after all.” My midlife crisis was a doozy…

  5. Not having kids I’m only partly aware of them. But I do see their problems. I think boomers like me were very lucky not to grow up with computers. I enjoyed cycling and playing outside. Maybe that’s why they are not as connected with the ‘real’ world, but they are starting to see they need to do things about the environment. Anyway that was a ramble…. X

  6. I’ve been noticing the ageism more too. As a baby boomer, I had a similar childhood – lots of unsupervised time outside – and I loved it. I think as we grow up – and discover we are not the center of the universe – reality rears its (sometimes) ugly head. I distinctly remember, at the age of 35!, my doctor responding to a symptom by saying…”well, now that you’re 35, these things happen…” SAY WHAT? I am really seeing the ageism in the medical world, which I used to work in. You are just not that important – for screenings, for physicals (Medicare doesn’t cover them), etc. Down the ladder we go. A fascinating topic.
    I have no use for Siri or Alexa either. And I shudder to imagine myself growing up in today’s world with my mother texting me and following me around via an app on a phone. Which I know she would do.

    • I remember a moment like that, too. One, I started menopause early and my doc denied the possibility though that tendency ran in my family. As I result I went completely nuts for several months and rather than treat me with hormones, I got PROZAC. When I finally did get HRT, I literally woke up one morning and thought, “I’m back!” Then, later, in my late 40s, when my joints started to go, my doc just shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t know. We could try physical therapy but things happen as you get older.” THINGS???? And then, when I was 52 and my right hip HAD GONE, my doc didn’t even order X-rays of it in spite of the symptoms. He said, “You’re too young for osteoarthritis!

      One thing I’m grateful for is living long enough, and my aunts living long enough, that I could see who they actually WERE as people. I miss them every day.

      • I want to scream when I hear the “well these things happen when you get older…” excuse from the doctors. Mostly an excuse to do nothing or to not even try. My millennial kids are loving, but don’t see us as people…at least not yet. I hope I live long enough for that to happen as well.
        (that’s awful about the prozac…to just assume you need an antidepressant…crazy-making)

        • I think it can go two ways — in my mom’s eyes I never matured past 18. She kept fighting the same fights with me until she died when I was 44. I thought so many times with students (and her) we have to have enough faith in ourselves to hand off the baton and hopefully we gave them enough faith in us so they believe they are capable of carrying it. ❤

          You know it's weird but "These things happen when you get older" might even be true but that doesn't mean ANYTHING to the person sitting there wondering what's happening and how to deal with it.

          • Good point. Although in my case, my mother always saw me as the adult – to take care of her – but that’s another story.
            In the back of my mind, the “getting older” excuse might make even a bit of sense, but yes, there is no comfort in that whatsoever. Mmm, do the docs say “well that happens when you’re young…” with the same dismissiveness to the “young” patients? Not in my experience.
            I think people need empathy at any age. And it doesn’t need to be titrated down with advanced age.

            • My mom saw me as the adult to take care of her, too. I think the way she treated me well into my middle age was a way to retain power. 🙂 But that’s another story. I don’t know if docs say, “That happens when you’re young” — maybe I’m too old to remember! 😉

  7. Thanks for your blog post. It’s always interesting to read things from perspectives different from mine. A few things to note, though:
    Ageism goes both ways. Older people can be ageist towards young people, just as young people can be biased against older people. Although you seem to be trying not to, you appear to rely on some unfair preconceptions of millennials. These are common myths that boomers hold to be true about millennials: we were “given everything”, that we have it “easy”, that we were “coddled”, that we’re “impatient” and expect instant gratification, and that we use technology to shield ourselves from actual human interaction.
    I’ll try to address each one of those misconceptions.
    On being “spoiled”:
    I don’t know about you, but I held multiple part-time jobs while I was in middle school and high school. I started working at a movie theater for $5.35 when I was 14. I continued to work, between 15-35 hours per week while school was in session while maintaining a 3.8 GPA until I graduated high school in 2003. Had I been afforded the privilege of finishing my college education, I would have graduated in 2007, right before the biggest economic recession in decades. Like many of my fellow millennials, I have over $50,000 in student loan debt, accumulated from one year of traditional college and a year and a half online to finish my Associate’s degree. Paying more than $300 a month, as I’ve been doing for the past 7 years, it will take me well over 25 years to pay them off. So, in addition to jobs being harder than ever to find, we’re making – adjusted for inflation – far less than both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers before us, with far more – and more expensive – bills to pay. Going into the workforce at a time when [quality] jobs were nonexistent leads to something of an existential crisis, especially when we see the media and other people constantly telling us that we’re “less than” if we “settle” for a low-paying jobs (regardless of the desperation of our situation[s]) despite not having the experience necessary to be continued for the few available jobs in our chosen career paths. This led to many college-educated millennials continuing their educations and pursuing Masters and Doctorate degrees, which led to even more debt, and these weren’t often in the most recession-proof fields. So now, we’re constantly ridiculed for getting an education and having to pay for it ourselves (and the price of our education has increased 161% since 1987, which was after most Boomers went to school) and salaries haven’t increased anywhere near enough to pay for that tuition.
    I certainly wasn’t coddled and I honestly can’t think of a single millennial friend who had it “easy”. I was, however, the victim of repeated emotional, physical, and sexual abuse throughout all of my formative years. It started with a relative when I was six and lasted for over 20 years. I would have to really struggle to think of a single female millennial friend who hasn’t been exposed to traumatic sexual abuse. Beyond that, my parents and I were never close while I was growing up and I still don’t have a close relationship with them. I don’t really understand where they could be getting this idea from other than some absurd misled idea that we were pampered and spoiled, driven by…??? I don’t know. What can possibly make someone ignore reality to the point that they don’t bother to fact check anything before forming biases and opinions?
    Instant gratification:
    All of us, young and old, have grown accustomed to things moving faster than they had in the past. Whether it’s checkout lanes at Walmart or the drive-through at Starbucks, people of all ages get impatient when things aren’t done within five minutes. We all see something, we want it, and we want it now. Part of that is just the progression of our consumerist culture, where everything has a price tag and is Ready in Under Fifteen Minutes Or Your Money Back™. I’ve seen more “entitled” people of the Gen X generation and older than I have millennials. We’re tired, we’re so very tired (especially those of us who work long hours on our feet), and we get distracted when we’re tired, sometimes by our phones, but we don’t try to be rude. Most often it is someone else’s expectations of us that leads to their disappointment. They expect a conversation on the bus, a smile, a warm greeting, while we just want to go home and unwind and to have our “me time” at the end of the night. We generally don’t have enough energy to give it away freely. If I have finite resources, I’m going to save what I have left for the things I need to spend them on, and not waste them. (See also: spoon theory )
    Most of us were exposed to technology at a very young age. Considering how rapidly it advanced as we grew up, we needed that exposure or we wouldn’t have been able to keep up with our classmates and our studies. (Important note: we were born between 1981 and 1996. There are many members of other generations who believe everyone who was born after Gen Xers is a millennial, but that isn’t true.) Technology, for many of us, became a substitute for actual human connection – but this wasn’t a choice we made, but rather one made for us. We were left home alone with the television on as our babysitter. We were given video game consoles and told we couldn’t leave the house. We were kept away from other children. And, technology for us isn’t an actual substitute, but rather a means through which we achieve that human connection, through long-distance relationships and friendships. We do spend a lot of time on our phones, but while we’re on them we’re learning new languages, studying, reading, communicating with people around the world, anticipating in global conversations in ways that are impactful, and yes, sometimes we even entertain ourselves on them.

    Finally, about “divisive” and “limiting” labels: For many of us, labels make us feel safe and like we’re not alone. For example, those who identify as nonbinary, do so in part because it makes them feel like they’re not alone, gives them a sense of community, and for some LGBTQ+ youth, labels can be a saving grace that stands between them and suicide. Learning that I wasn’t broken, that other people had been through what I’d been through, and that I didn’t have to shoulder the entirety of what I am and what has been done to me alone has saved my life more than once. Community is hugely important for all people. It is a sense of community that drives the thought patterns that create labels. I want to find people who I can relate to. To do that, I need to look at what I want to discuss with them, what I need support with, so that I know which search parameters to use when seeking them out. Whether it’s “LGBTQ+ millennials” or “early mid-life crisis” or “unmotivated artist” or “disabled and feeling useless”, it’s these things that connect me to other people, not that which separates us. Can it go too far? Probably. But so can everything else, and I personally haven’t really seen an “overuse” of labels cause any kind of damage.
    {Also, it always seems like only those who fit into some vague cookie-cutter amorphous shape ever get offended by “labels”, like white people complaining about being called “white”. “I’m Irish!” Well, so am I, but that doesn’t mean we’re not white. (Tangential side note: race and ethnicity are two different things, contrary to what some seem to think.)}

    Anyway, I guess just take this with a grain of salt and maybe consider it food for thought. Your post gave me some to think about, so hopefully, this doesn’t end up upsetting you and just returns the favor.

    • You have illustrated my point perfectly 🙂 .

      OK, here and there you’ve put words in my mouth (I never said Millennials were “spoiled” for example, I never said — or implied — that “ageism” only went one way. I know it doesn’t.)

      In fact, I don’t believe most labels fit any of us except on the most superficial level, though I am short and I am old and I wear glasses, all ways to categorize me at the very least on a biological level.

      HOWEVER when I was young person I bought a lot of the labels assigned to me/us. I thought they were definitions. I experimented and tried to fit them, but most of the time they didn’t fit. I failed at being a hippy (boring). I failed at being young wife (abusive husband). I failed at being an intellectual (too creative). By the time I was 30, I gave up and went after my own dreams.

      People are individuals — whatever general label they might fit into (race and ethnicity for example) and I believe each individual person merits the opportunity to BE that person not just for him/her self but to others. I believe we should have respect and curiosity toward each other as well as empathy.

      You think your generation needed to learn technology because you couldn’t compete without the knowledge? That’s not unique to your generation, and, for that matter, I first used a computer when I was six. Because of my dad’s profession, I grew up with them and, for various rather sad personal reasons I was helping my dad write programs in FORTRAN when I was in high school. I ended up spending most of my life as a teacher teaching various classes — and conducting training for my peers — on how to use a computer, program a computer, use software etc. etc. It was always part of my life. I’m not the only “Boomer” with that background. Someone had to teach you — and someone had to teach me.

      The media has tremendous power now. I know that. But it’s (also) not reality. Yet people allow it to tell them who they are. I was a young person when the power of the media began to gain ascendance over people; the early years of TV and Madison Avenue. I’ve seen it grow.

      As for the hardships of your life? I’m sorry you’re a victim of greed (which is what I think marketing college and university as guarantees of a good job has stemmed from and the correlate to that is, of course, obscene student loans), but all of us are the “victim” of something. By the time I entered the teaching field, the good jobs were gone and universities and colleges had figured out how much money they could save by NEVER giving people tenure. This meant no job security, no benefits, no way (for most of my colleagues who wanted to) to marry and raise a family in an economy in which inflation continued to rise. I had to learn to make that reality work for me somehow. It was never perfect, but at least I was able to get out with all the security I needed.

      Life and human interactions do not exist in the broad swaths of generations or what the media projects onto us. It’s quite a lot more intimate and complicated. And NO one fits into “labels” unless they choose to define themselves that way. I’ve now looked at your blog and yeah; I think you probably DO understand what I’m trying to say. You clearly don’t want to be identified with your physical problems. It seems to me that part of your fight is exist as yourSELF. In my mind, that’s the most respectable thing a human can do.

      • Yes, sorry, I was projecting a bit and extrapolating that your conclusions had the same point of origin as others’ seem to, whether or not that was your intent. My intent was – mostly – to point out that perhaps you were automatically labeling people who fit into what you considered the millennial group, too, although perhaps I failed at that.
        Humans are individuals, but we also crave community.
        Personally for me, in my life, labels have brought me together with far more like-minded people than removing them from my vocabulary could have possibly done. I seek kinship. Labels enable me to find that.
        If I had let my upbringing control my life’s narrative, rather than using my newly discovered labels, I probably would have succeeded at suicide long ago. For example, having been raised Catholic and in a conservative household, what can a mentally “ill” and Queer girl be but broken, evil even? They taught me that my body was dirty, my mind a liar, my thoughts, my heart, all betraying me to their devils. Really, what they managed to expose was that the devils were in them, all along, but it’s really hard to cope with such a schism at six years old.
        And that’s off on another tangent, sorry. I think we do understand each other, at least a bit, and I’m sorry if I came off brusque or short-tempered.

        • There you go. The real you. ❤

          Labels? We automatically look at someone, however unconsciously, and have certain expectations. I experienced it yesterday and it made me sad. I experienced it the classroom often — students trying to help me use a DVD player because they're parents couldn't. And, with my age peers, I do spent a lot of time helping them with their computers. 😀

          Unconsciously, though, we cast a wide net with new people (generalize). I try to remembermy net is just a theory.

          For what it might be worth to you, I am also "mentally ill" — I had a nervous breakdown when I was 42 and when I returned to school after 3 mos disability leave, my peers gave me a very wide berth and did all they could to make me quit teaching there. One of them called me "Lazarus." This was after I had taught there 13 years and done very well (as they all knew). Since then I've been on anti-depressants. It's OK with me. I wouldn't have missed out on the darkness. It gave me my liberty.

          And gayness? My boyfriend in grad school was gay, mostly. That was bizarre. Actually, he and I weren't bizarre, but the way we were regarded by people? People continually told me what could and could not happen in our relationship without having any knowledge of what actually DID happen, our commitment to each other, our struggles or the reality that love is not 100% about superficial sexual identification. It still boggles my mind that people think being queer/gay/whatever is a CHOICE. As Peter said, "Who would choose to be forever set outside what most people expect from life?"

          I'm glad so much social progress has been made, but it's still, as my family would say, "A hard row to hoe."

          I don't know if you're into poetry at all, but I take a lot of heart from these lines by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "What I do is me. For this I came."

  8. Ageism, racism, homophobia, misogyny, even nationalism, it is all either because we wear our labels as the definition of who we are or because someone else applies the label.

    When someone applies a label to one it is rarely to elevate the person. It is to confine them within the label, like a horse in a corral. Choosing a label and making it the very meaning of your life puts you in the same corral. You think you’ve won but you haven’t.

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