Free To Be You and Me

As we are living in the world where the constraints placed on us by the past are loosening and falling away, we are becoming a freer you and me than ever before.

One notable portion of this genesis was Marlo Thomas’s Free To Be You and Me promoting the idea of a post-1960s gender neutrality, with its emphasis on individuality, tolerance, and being comfortable with who we are. Its main message being we are all capable of great things, and one’s gender should not be a factor in achieving those things. There was a time, and not all that long ago, that we weren’t free to be whatever we wanted. No. Not an option. Yet while we have moved forward, we’ve still got “a ways to go.”

Just this morning on Meet the Press – March 20, 2016 there was a discussion about Hillary Clinton’s orating skills. She’s accused of not smiling, having an “angry-looking” face, sounding harsh and loud, and being “pushy” when she speaks. I’m no fan of Hillary but does this seem like a rejection of gender stereotypes to you? I haven’t heard anyone invoking similar kinds of stereotypes about the male rhetoric in the current bid for the presidency. Despite the fact that demerits have been earned by Marco Rubio for his child-like looks, Ted Cruz for his scary, weird, almost unnatural face, and Donald Trump for his outlandish comb-over and unvarnished hatred for just about everyone and everything not “Trumpian,” these are not gender stereotypes. Low blows, certainly, however.

Free to be You and Me is about changing long-standing perceptions at the outset, enabling children to grow up thinking differently right from the start.

And what about the elderly? Will that change the existing stereotypes of them, too? One doesn’t hear much rhetoric about this demographic group that has seemingly outlived its usefulness, unless the topic has to do with the latest innovations in nursing home technologies. There was a time when the elderly were respected as contributing members of both the family and the community. Their wise counsel was sought and appreciated. They were cared for at home by family. Not warehoused until they died – often alone, ignored, with few if any visitors, except for the occasional over-worked social worker briefly checking in before moving on to someone else.

That particular portrait of the elderly is beginning to change, but far too many are still treated like children, thought unable to handle their own affairs, and viewed as dependent. They often get dismissed, are judged differently and under-valued accordingly, and assumed to be too old to be useful. And while some of them might be those things, many are quite capable of contributing to on-going conversations that require more than a modicum of intelligence.

One so often hears, particularly in restaurants,  “terms of endearment” usually reserved for children, directed at the elderly patron. What’ll you have dear? Thanks sweetie. Or Hi honey, and sometimes an aside to a fellow server:  “Isn’t she cute.” To talk that way to an adult is neither cute nor endearing. Rather, it is both demeaning and insulting, even if it’s not intended that way.

This is an issue that is fast-becoming more important as our aging population continues to outpace those rising in the ranks behind it.

The elderly are like any other group of individuals for whom identification – from birth announcements to obituaries – is age-based. And let’s not forget that age is but “a number” – not sum and substance of what the individual knows, thinks, says, or can or can’t do. It’s a number – it does not define who someone is.

At 75 my grandmother was riding her bicycle – a coaster-brake bike, no less – all over Barberton. A woman ahead of her time in many ways.

Redefining our approach to this issue may be our only saving grace. And how we treat the elderly in our own families, in our neighborhoods, and in every other aspect of our lives as we encounter them may well determine what kind of care and consideration we are accorded when we reach that numerical era ourselves.

Dealing with the elderly can be frustrating, but so is dealing with unruly teenagers or smart-mouthed 20-somethings who, as we are all aware, know everything. Only with age do we begin to absorb the lessons others have to teach us because we tend to become more open to listening later in life. At least we used to be. No one seems to be listening to anyone anymore (a topic I’ve dealt with before), and in this regard, the elderly often have no recourse but to capitulate. To accept their fate.

Grandma never accepted “the inevitable.” If she wanted something, she had to fight for it. And fight for it she would.

Why should older people be treated differently just because they are older? White hair, wrinkles and hobbled postures need not be synonymous with a wizened brain, physical incapacity, or mental deterioration. We all want to be who we want to be, not conform to the preconceived notions of others.

Celebrate who we are. Celebrate all we can be in every hour given us. Only then will “you and me be free to be you and me” – whatever our ages.

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