in her brilliant book, this chair rocks: a manifesto against ageism, ashton applewhite differentiates between olders and elders. she also uses the term youngers rather than youngsters. she claims that not all olders are elders.
in her mind, an elder is a wise person who guides the community/family/tribe, much as they have in former times, and may still do. an elder is deemed worthy of respect simply by virtue of advanced years. (granted, not all olders are worthy of respect...witness the sexual harassment scandals. they are clearly situations where an older is demeaning a younger and not worthy of my respect.)
an older is someone who is older than a younger. we are always older than some people and younger than others. it is value-neutral, unlike “the elderly” or “senior citizen”. i’ve adopted the term.
contrary to ashton’s view i believe that every older has the potential to be an elder. olders can be elders-in-training, potential elders. we all have an elder within. making that energy conscious is essential to the paradigm shift that will allow all olders to be treated with dignity. as olders allow their elderhood to emerge the culture will change.
just as the paradigm shifted in the 60s and 70s, it can shift again. ageism is the only prejudice that is still socially acceptable. just look at the birthday card rack in you local shop. the cards that claim to celebrate 60, 70 or 80 are often actually demeaning and degrading. they provoke laughter because olders are still open to ridicule. it’s only embarrassing to be called ‘older’ as long as i’m embarrassed. the phrase “you look good for your age” is supposed to be a compliment...but only because our culture equates good looks with youth. my recent response to that comment from a younger was, “wow, you look good for your age too.”
to become conscious of our life experience and its value, to honour the decades, is to become an elder. every older has a remarkable story to tell, one that holds a legacy for a younger. that younger may be a blood relative or not, may be the same skin colour or not, may have the same sexual or gender identity or not.
the only difference is how long one has lived on the planet.