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Time To Thaw Out-Dated Thinking

Written by on Monday, 20 January 2014 12:37 pm
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Ice storms and disasters reveal out-dated thinking. PJ Wade asks, "A lot has happened, but has much really changed?" Is your thinking "frozen" in the past?

Media coverage of the recent ice storm revealed a view of our oldest citizens that is as frozen as the landscape was.

This was the lead sentence for an article I wrote in January 1998 when significant chunks of New York State and Eastern Canada were immobilized by an early winter ice storm similar to the one that hit almost the same area at the end of 2013. When I wrote that article, the Millennium was rapidly approaching and fast-forward "Year 2000" hyperbole abounded, but thinking was still full of 18th and 19th Century stereotypes about age. Myths persisted that chronological age mattered enough to make you "too young" or "too old" to do or not do specific things.

More than 15 years later, here we are in the second decade of the 21st Century, and I ask the important question that as a futurist I feel is too often overlooked: "A lot has happened since then, but has much really changed?"

The only real change to my lead sentence and the article lies in ice storm details and "the culprits." The internet and social media have expanded the number who report and comment on others, but dated stereotypes persist. So today I write…

Media and online coverage - by professionals, citizen journalists, and social media users alike - of the recent ice storm revealed a view of our oldest citizens that is as frozen as the landscape was.

Again and again, "seniors" were sought out when journalists, broadcasters, bloggers, videographers, commentors... wanted to present stories that dramatized how overwhelming the situation was and how individuals were unable to cope. "Seniors" were repeatedly depicted as vulnerable, helpless, and frail. These stereotypes ignored the valuable support and leadership the majority of this group contributed in their neighbourhoods, to their ommunities, at their jobs, and as volunteer workers.

In comparing the two ice storms, we see two examples of the persistence of "frozen thinking." Although evidence abounds to prove that chronological age is no longer relevant, specific birthdays like 50, 65, or 75 can still trigger the old-fashioned use of the "senior" label, with its related ageism, or prejudice against age, for those who believe it's chronological age that defines a person not skills, accomplishments, and potential.

In reality, the recent ice storm and disasters like floods, droughts, tornados, and blizzards, demonstrate how adaptable, resourceful, and indispensable experienced people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond can be. However, these are not the subjects typically labelled "seniors."

Every community includes people who require the support of neighbours and communities, so that they can remain independent and in their own homes. Many, but not all, are elderly, and their need is not entirely defined by chronological age. Poor health, senility, and dependency are not automatic consequences of aging. The exceptionally active and fit +70 year old often targeted by media is, in fact, not exceptional at all. More and more people live active, healthy lives well into their 90s and beyond. Yet we still laugh at ageist jokes and make too many of them about our failings.

During natural disasters, the stereotype of elderly people fiercely determined to stay in their homes remains a common image. Face facts and you'll see the "gotta stay" reaction results from a number of influences on the deeply emotional connection with "home" for a wide range of people regardless of chronological age:

  • Property owners generally prefer to stay with their real estate when possible.
  • Families want to come together to combine their strengths and improve outcomes.
  • Moving out means leaving this valuable asset vulnerable to loss, theft, or damage that may be difficult to recover from, particularly for those on fixed incomes.
  • People who've lived through the 1930s Depression, at least one war, or daily struggles in an undeveloped country can be more resilient when hardship hits. The prospect of "making do," while not pleasant, is not overwhelming.
  • Packing up to leave or abruptly abandoning home to escape temporary problems caused by a natural disaster can spell devastating upheaval, especially to those with medical issues, pets, limited resources, or few contacts.
  • The prospect of permanently being forced out of one's home by abandoning it to destruction can be more frightening than sitting in the dark, shivering in the cold, or sweltering in summer heat.
  • For many property owners, the determination to stay put is often linked to a strong belief that with modern, much-touted technology, the power won't be off for long.
  • Optimists prevail. Few people or officials can accurately predict the length of time the negative effects of a blackout, flood, or any natural upheaval will persist. As like minded neighbours band together, staying does seem like the right thing to do.

Our reaction to nature's dramatic upheaval of our day-to-day lives says a lot about how tied we are to the past and how well we keep current priorities in focus:

  • Whatever the last disaster to hit your area was, what did it make you realize about how your thinking had changed since the previous upheaval?
  • If natural disasters don't do it for you, what does trigger up-dates and upgrades to your thinking?
  • How do you protect yourself from "too young" or "too old" ageism and stereotyping, especially when, in the ultimate negative "selfie," you do it to yourself?
  • Social media and the internet can make tremendous, even life saving contributions during natural disasters. Power outages and societal disruptions can sever the link with these now-essential interconnections. Human-to-human communication remains essential. What are you doing to make sure the next natural disasters - and there will be more - don't catch you with your "connections" down?

A lot has happened, but has your thinking consciously improved as much as you believe it has?

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  About the author, PJ Wade

2 comments

  • Comment Link PJ Tuesday, 21 January 2014 3:36 pm posted by PJ

    Thanks for the feedback, Jim. Let's spread the age-free word!

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  • Comment Link Jim Martin Tuesday, 21 January 2014 2:23 pm posted by Jim Martin

    Thank you again for an insightful article that is applicable to everyone, young and old, about "natural", or otherwise, disasters. Too often, as observers of events elsewhere, we tend not to evaluate our individual circumstances if we are part of what we oberve. If you are 20 or 70 (which I am and just celebrated last month) the Rule of 6 "P's" is as relevant today for everyone.

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