Speak Up, Speak Out

By Robin Bush, ISR Communications

Patrick, a talented, retired professional in his early 80s, has been looking for new opportunities to be involved in issues facing his community. He was invited to participate in a panel presentation covering an issue he’d dealt with throughout his long, specialized career.  The meeting started, and the moderator introduced him and the other four much younger panelists.  As the audience raised each question, the moderator asked a panelist to answer but never called on Patrick to respond. Even though he was qualified to mentor the audience and those on the panel, he was treated as invisible as he sat beside the other much younger co-panelists. The audience missed learning what he could offer, and Patrick felt disregarded as he was prevented from the interactive connection he’d been seeking.

It is not uncommon for the voices of older adults, rich with life experiences, to be ignored. This results in others missing out on the opportunity to learn from their unique insights. Ageism, a form of discrimination rooted in negative or inaccurate stereotypes, makes it hard for all voices to be heard in our ageist culture.  The words of an older speaker are often either ignored or talked over by others, essentially drowning out their voice.  It may occur less often in our Island County communities, where we have a larger-than-average demographic over age 65, but it is still here, and is a reality nationwide.  Ageism does not only impact those on the older end of the age spectrum; it is felt by younger people, too, when their voices are obscured.

How do we change this?

To reduce the impact of ageism on your physical and mental well-being, you can decide not to let ageism reduce you to silence.  There are many ways to be heard that go beyond spoken words.  You can vote, volunteer, write letters, show up at meetings or events for causes you believe in, and seek intergenerational opportunities to teach others of all ages what you have learned in your life.  You may encounter discouraging experiences as Patrick did, but you can use those to renew your determination to be heard in the next opportunity that arises.

Ways to engage someone in conversation that reduce ageism:

There is a stereotype of older people that is one of the premises of ageism – that older people are rigid, with opinions that prevent them from hearing other points of view.  If you don’t fit the stereotype, you will help defeat ageism in our culture.

Whenever you speak, use effective words in a civil, respectful way, and be willing to listen to others with different points of view.  That deepens your engagement with them because they feel you intend to learn not to persuade or argue.  We don’t learn by only surrounding ourselves with those who think as we do.  We learn from talking with a person who thinks differently.  We are curious beings, and curiosity can open our minds.  A constructive conversation is the opportunity to understand why someone believes differently than we do.

Recently, I learned a technique to engage others in conversation designed to reinforce understanding and cultivate opportunities to find common ground.  It’s called The Three C’s.  You can encourage dialog by saying, I am Curious about… or I am Confused about… or I am Concerned about…  The 3 C’s will help the person you are talking to feel you are genuinely interested in what they have to say because you are asking about their point of view.  Listening without rebuttal is one path to understanding and can open doors between generations.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” – Winston Churchill

An outstanding article is available to learn more about ageism, its effect on mental and physical health, how to challenge ageist stereotypes, and how intergenerational experiences can build stronger relationships of mutual learning.  Go to: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2023/03/cover-new-concept-of-aging