We love our labels, don’t we? We attach them to others and ourselves without thinking.
Ethnic minorities, whites, blacks, hippies, peaceniks, geeks, rednecks, people with disabilities – the list seems endless, some of the labels are derogatory, some easy terms of reference.
The danger with labels is that they obscure a common denominator, the humanity of those wearing them. The mind creates artificial categories that become artificial barriers.
What do we think when we say the word “seniors”? Inevitably the images are negative. They are of increasing decrepitude: physical illness, senility and helplessness.
The label “seniors” helps to distance us from the perceived embarrassment of aging. To separate us from those we see struggling to walk up the street or get out of a car. It feeds a preposterous delusion that getting old happens to others.
Why do we need any barriers? Why do we strive to deny our own humanity?
Seniors are people whose long lives have made them extraordinary and worthy of celebration, not banishment from our consciousness. They are a vastly diverse group of individuals to which no universal label can be applied.
Some may have slowed down over the years, some may find modern life with its internet and gadgetry hard to comprehend. Yet age-related changes differ greatly from one individual to the next in the same way that adolescence affects the young differently.
The automatic correlation of aging with ailing and dementia speaks more to social bias and misconception than to reality.
As the world’s population gets older and the baby boomer generation enters retirement, it is to be hoped these stereotypes will fall away and replaced by a much sunnier concept of aging. The images will be of seniors on bikes or canoeing, of being physically active.
This is already happening to some degree, but much more needs to be done to dispel the negative imagery in our minds. Next year’s 55-plus summer games in Barrhead and Westlock can only help this process.
The truth is many seniors have very active minds and a rich reservoir of experience from which we can all draw benefit. They have amazing tales to tell to those who listen and a long historical perspective.
Last week was Seniors’ Week. Rightly it was proclaimed as a province-wide celebration of seniors and their contribution to communities.
Barrhead marked the week with a series of events: a stuff the bus challenge for the food bank; Dale’s drum circle in Hillcrest Lodge; a seniors’ visit to the museum; a seniors’ tea party at the library and a 1930s and 40s swing dance.
For those who witnessed or took part in some of the activities, it was a moving experience.
Dale Kiselyk’s drum circle, for instance, brought out an array of smiling faces to Hillcrest’s dining area as seniors pounded African and Cuban drums; it was cathartic, it was interactive, it was fun.
While Seniors’ Week is to be praised for turning the spotlight on part of our community, it should not become merely a salve to the conscience so that people feel free to ignore seniors the following week. And the week after that.
Every week should be Seniors’ Week. Just as every week should be People’s Week.
God willing, all of us will be seniors one day.
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