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When did ‘senior’ become a bad word?

December 23, 2018

About eight years ago, in spite of a broken ankle, I decided to join some friends for an evening of dinner and dancing. I even took my crutches onto the dance floor, and rocked out to some 80’s music. Later, a young man asked my husband what I’d done to my ankle and offered information about his surgeon. I gave him my number to text me the name.

The next morning, I awoke to this text” “Hi Babe, there’s an old lady here who needs the name of my surgeon.”

I was 44.

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“Ageism” is the stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. My experience is just a casual example. We all do it, often without noticing that’s even what we’re doing, and certainly without intending harm.

For example, we say, “You look so good for your age!” or “Does this skirt make me look old?” or “Wow! He’s still playing football?”

How often have you used the phrase, “senior moment” when you forget something? Didn’t you forget things when you were younger?

And what about that term in the first place? When did “senior” become a bad word?

When we were in high school, being a senior meant we were the top dogs. It was the same in college. When one has seniority at work, it means you have earned privileges colleagues with shorter tenures are not eligible for. In fact, the first time someone mentioned to me that they didn’t like being called a senior, I was stunned because I have always seen it as a status of honor.

It is time we realize the prime real estate we have in our aging population!

That person who answers slowly is a person who has lived long enough to know when to hold her tongue.

The person moving more slowly may have learned that moving fast doesn’t get you there any sooner.

The person who asked you to repeat what you just said is showing you respect by ensuring they heard you correctly before answering.

That morning eight years ago, I saw the humor in the text, but I was also crushed. That one, harmless text changed how I saw myself. In fact, I sometimes wonder if that was when I started questioning if I was “acting my age.”

Are experiences like that one the reason why we stop sharing our opinion, because we feel less valued?

It’s subtle, the way this perception penetrates our psyche and causes us to see ourselves and others differently. I began to place limits on myself because of my age. Not only did my negative self-talk feed my own ageist beliefs, but it risked fueling those of my kids and others around me. Each time I asked, “Does this look too young for me?” or “I can’t … I’d look silly at my age,” I was teaching others that I saw my age as a limitation.

We can all be more sensitive to what we say, but more importantly, we have to change how we think and act.

I hope I meet that young man again. I’m gonna let him know that this “old lady” got his text … and I’m still dancing!

Editor’s note: Dana Peveler is the Executive Director of the Senior Community Center of Owensboro-Daviess County.

December 23, 2018

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