Ageism In America

I was watching Real Time the night that Bill Maher had his now famous rant about how ageism is the last acceptable form of bigotry in this country, and how after all he has done for the state of California, Governor Jerry Brown should be a top presidential contender, and would be, were it not for the fact that Brown is considered too old at age 76. I found myself pumping my fist and shouting "Yeah!" It's about time! Maher was absolutely right. The way old people are treated and perceived in this country is a disgrace!

Throughout the world, from New Guinea to Asia to Africa, particularly in tribal cultures, the village elders are the final authority on all important matters and disputes. These cultures are wise enough to understand that old people have a lifetime of knowledge and experience to draw from. Old people also have perspective and they tend to have less of a need to impress others. Meanwhile, in this country, old people are looked upon as doddering old invalids. Not only are our old people not asked for their opinions, but many people talk down to old people as if they are children. "You like apple sauce, don't you Mr. Johnson?... Yes you do... yes you do."

Why does our society treat old people this way? Well, for one thing, if we really gave old people the respect they deserve, then it would be much harder to put grandma in a home, the first time she forgets your name. And senility is always the kicker. How many times have you heard someone say, "My father doesn't even know who I am anymore"?

Really? You know who he is don't you? You know, the man who raised you, nurtured you, loved you and brought you into this world.

Bottom line: when old people no longer gratify our egos, it's time to be shipped off to a retirement home.

And yet, to their credit, the fastest-growing demographic in America, Hispanics, do not send away their old people on a block of ice. By and large, Latin people take care of their parents and grandparents to the very end. However, hard and inconvenient it may be.

Could it be that this topic really hit home because I recently turned 50? Absolutely! At 50 you start doing the math and realizing all the things you can never pack into the next 30 or 40 years. Provided you are lucky enough to live another 30 or 40 years. Even your day dreams change. Like that cabin in the mountains I fantasize about. Now when I day dream about it, I am in my mid-90s when I can actually afford it. After 50 your dreams are like the navigation device in your car; "Recalculating... recalculating..."

Being 50 also radically alters one's perception of what "old" is. I remember when I was about six, my parents, who were in their 30s, had a friend who turned 50. And to me that was like being a Neanderthal man. Now, when I hear about someone dying at eighty, I'm thinking, "Eighty?... but he was just a kid!"

On the bright side, at 50 saying no to things you don't want to do gets refreshingly easy. "What, do I want to go to Burning Man and sleep in a tent?... Hell no!"

In fact, there are all sorts of things you don't want to do after fifty. Like go to dance clubs and watch movies with Johah Hill.

And trust me, you definitely don't want to watch one of those Fred Thompson reverse mortgage commercials with your aging mother. When this happened to me, my Mom said "A reverse mortgage, what a need idea!" and I thought "Yeah, try it lady, I'll have you declared incompetent before you can say 'Lawrence Welk!'"