So. October 1st is Older People’s day. It’s the International Day of Older Persons. The theme is “meaningful participation”...which means you need to listen to older people. Every morning I’m surprised to wake up and discover that I’m an older person. I don’t just mean a day older. I mean I’m now a woman who can’t do stairs as quickly as before, and needs reading glasses. I’m assumed to be the grandmother if I’m standing near someone’s small child. When I’m invited to a “40th” it’s a wedding anniversary and not a birthday. And I’m astonished. It seemed to happen so quickly.
As a child (of loving if quite strict parents) I was taught to listen to my elders and “elders know better” was the final statement that silenced any objection I had to being told what to do. How disappointing to discover that now I’m an “elder” I need an international collaboration run by the United Nations to exhort the world to listen to me. I wonder why I can’t just assume that I should be listened to, as older people did when I was a child. Doesn’t being listened to come automatically like the free bus pass?
I’m irritated because in those days I had to listen even if the older person was talking rubbish. Older people told me that my place was in the kitchen or at the side of a husband, however dodgy he might turn out to be. Older people told me that they’d not employ me because women just get pregnant (nice touch of circular argument, here?) My elders heated up the planet, and killed off a lot of the quite interesting wildlife while I listened respectfully to them.
So my message to younger people is DON’T listen to older people unless they are talking sense. Consider me as a potential source of advice based on experience, but recognise that just being old does not mean I’ve had the right experience for telling you what you should do.
Now you know you can ignore what I am saying here, which is this. It is a shame to waste valuable knowledge and experience of older people, but to be honest, it is often highly personalised and limited. If you listen to me because I’ve been around for a long time it is just as patronising as NOT listening to me because I’ve been around for a long time. Do me the honour of weighing up what I have to say and just be polite if I am talking rubbish. And now, I’ll be a quiet older woman for a moment or two and let you think for yourself, but you can call me if you want me. You know where I am.