Ageism: A deadly virus that no one speaks of

By Anna Stolarek

About a month ago, I was at my local grocery store, doing my usual weekly shopping. With a mask already on and my own woven basket in hand, I walked into the store, sanitized my hands and beelined straight towards the aisle that I occupied the most. The vegan section. Although I am not a vegan, I have to say I really like some of the products that they come up with. If you have not tried a vegan pate yet, you have not lived. Point. Blank. Period. Anyway, I digress.

I was minding my own business, picking out a couple of things from the shelves and placing them in my basket, to later have these items scanned at the checkout. A pretty standard routine if you ask me. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw someone glide pass me. Yes, you read that right. Not walk, but glide. Instinctively, I turned around and noticed a guy in his early 50s, with salt-and-pepper hair that George Clooney would approve of, just living his life and skating around the store, with a basket of his own, already half full with products.

I did not think too much of it. It was not something out of the ordinary to me. People ride in skates all the time. Unfortunately, not everyone had the same idea.

Eight meters away from me, stood an elderly woman, who stared at the man with an incredulous look. If looks could kill, trust me, that man would be long gone. Then she leaned in to say something to her companion (who I presumed was her daughter) and whispered:

“Do you see what he’s wearing?”

I had two thoughts in mind when she said that. One, she is really bad at whispering. Granted the grocery store was not occupied by a lot of people, but regardless, she should really practice subtlety. Two, why was she so annoyed in the first place? The guy was not running into people and he was not obnoxiously loud. Then I got my answer when she added:

“He’s a bit too old for skates, don’t you think?”

Ah. There it is. Age classification.

Despite the fact, that we live in the 21st century, we still come across age discrimination. People around the world are judged day to day simply on the basis of their age, something that cannot be controlled. Believe it or not, seniors are not the only ones who struggle with this kind of prejudice. Ageism can work both ways.

One of my close friends has recently been a witness to quite an upsetting scene. She told me that she saw a child being ridiculed by his grandmother, for playing with toys. Apparently his friends were on the playground riding their bikes and his grandmother thought that he was embarrassing himself, because, compared to others, he looked like a baby playing with silly toys. Although the child did not say anything, my friend could tell that the words really got to him.

Why are we doing this? We spew so many things online about positivity, confidence and loving ourselves despite our age differences, but all of a sudden when someone does something in real life that is considered, by society’s standards, ‘inappropriate for their age’ we feel this instant need to put them down for it? What good does it do to them? Does that make us feel any better?

After finishing all of my exams, I started spending some of my free time on Twitter and as I am sure most of you know, it is not a social platform for the faint of heart. People can write whatever the hell they want. I mean it. Literally what they want. Not too long ago I was scrolling through random tweets on my timeline and I came across some passive-agressive comments coming from various active users who shamed many public figures for mistakes that they have done in their past stating things like:

‘You were in your late 30s when you did that. You should have known better.’

‘What you did is inexcusable! You were old enough to know that wasn’t right.’

‘You have no right to speak about such matters. You are just a minor.’

Excuse my French, but this is total bullshit. Is there an age limit for making mistakes? Did I miss the memo? Are we not allowed to make mistakes the second we reach a certain age? This thought process is embraced not just by a couple of people. Believe it or not, there are thousands, if not millions, of people who think that way. If you happen to share this view, allow me to tell you something. If someone is going to call you out for doing something that you should not have done on the basis of being too old or too young, do not get mad at them and just accept it, because at the end of the day your beliefs apply to you as well. Do not dish it out, if you cannot take it.

What is even more bizzare is that some people are not even aware that they are age discriminating. Now, what could be worse? Discriminating someone on the basis of their age with malicious intent to make them feel bad about themselves, or causing them harm without even realizing you are actually doing it, because what you are saying is considered to be the norm by others?

It goes without saying that now is the time to do better and be better. Do not spread hate and try to be an example to others. Show them how easy it is to be accepting.

If you want to swing on a swing set, do it! If you want to knit yourself a nice scarf, go ahead! If you want to ride in skates around the grocery store, you have my full support! These things should in no way define your maturity nor your age. Putting labels on things can be helpful to those who find certain notions difficult to grasp, but we have to realize that sometimes these kinds of labels can do more harm than good.

With this in mind, I would like to end this piece with a quote, said by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a retired track-and-field athlete, who, to this day is still considered one of the greatest athletes that has ever graced the track. Hopefully, that will put things into a much better perspective.

“Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.”