Ageism is prejudice against our own future selves

“As I am now, so you will be.”

As a child I read this on an old colonial-era tombstone in New England – and it chilled my blood.

Now, decades later, well into my “age-as-protected-class” years, I recognize it as an all-too-true statement on the human condition. Dead or alive. Past, present and future.

It is also the title of a piece by the writer Ashton Applewhite who is an acute observer of the aging process and ageism. In “As I Am Now, So You Will Be; Your Ageism Is Hypocrisy,” he asks: “Think of aging as something unattractive that happens to old people, or celebrities, or your parents? Think again.”

He notes that “Ageism is prejudice against our own future selves. … Aging is living, and everyone is doing it. Growing old is the one universal human experience. It’s also the one thing every person aspires to: no one wants to die young.”

“Why are we so apprehensive about it? … Because our ageist and capitalist culture frames aging as a problem to be ‘solved,’ a disease to be ‘cured’—and what a market, because everyone’s going to come down with it! And because all prejudice pits people against each other—in this case the young against the no-longer-young.”

He discusses double standards when it comes to aging in and out of the workplace [“Digital natives? Hot properties. Experienced executives? Incompetent relics”] and notes that “that not one negative stereotype about older workers holds up under scrutiny.” And he states that “The double standard is pervasive in tech, where entrepreneurs over age 50 struggle to get funded even though they’re twice as likely to succeed as those in their twenties. It’s biting youngers in Silicon Valley too, where engineers are getting Botoxed and hair-plugged before key interviews.”

This is a short essay, but a lot is said in a few words.

He concludes that:

“Age segregation impoverishes us because it cuts us off from most of humanity. Exchanging skills and stories across generations is the natural order of things. Let’s examine our double standards, think about how to shape the multi-generational society that we all hope to live long enough to inhabit, and come together at all ages to make it happen.”

So to all Gen X’ers, Gen Y’ers, Gen Z’ers and Millenials:  As I am now, so you will be.

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]