Age As Insult?

A three-letter word, old, so often elicits a reaction. Laughter…denial…insult...

Certainly, Donald Trump, a year and a half younger than I am, sees that word as a pejorative term. It's a shame that our culture ascribes negativity to old and positivity to young.

As a child, my parents taught me that asking someone their age was rude, especially if that person were female. Perhaps there was a connection with the card game Old Maid? Or maybe it was a fear of where old falls on life’s continuum—near the end where there is no continuing? It could be about stereotypes of the elderly as bumbling and weak, worthy of laughter in cartoons.

When I taught seventh-grade, one day a student in my class raised his hand and boldly asked me how old I was. Without hesitation, I said, “I’m 55.” The class giggled. To them old was something to be laughed at when talking about adults. Another student spoke up, “No grown-up has ever answered that question like you did.”

This was an opportunity for a teaching moment. “Why did you laugh? Old is something that happens to everybody. It’s neither a good nor a bad word. It just is. Although you may not believe it, you will be 55 one day too--at least I hope so. And I am not ashamed to tell anyone my age. It’s just another life fact.” 

I had traveled to Japan as a teacher in the Fulbright Memorial Teachers’ Fund and explained to my students how another country actually celebrates their elderly citizens. Respect for the Aged Day is actually a public holiday which is held on the third Monday of September every year.  

Of course, age brings its challenges to all of us and is accompanied with loss on various levels. However, old is also the accumulation of many past and continuing rich experiences. If I denied age, then I would deny the journey.

Mr. Trump, you are old. Embrace your age.

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