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Ageism

by Adela, age 17

Do you write your age?

The dictionaries define ageism as "discrimination based on age," (duh), "especially prejudice against the elderly." Some even go so far as to limit it to the province of just the elderly.

In my web searching, I've encountered many cases of elderly men and women who sued for age discrimination when they were denied employment for being, ostensibly, "past their prime." However, I haven't found any stories of lawsuits where the plaintiff challenges the perception that he or she is "too young."

It is not discriminatory to assert that young people are, by virtue of their age, incompetent, unintelligent, and devoid of critical thinking skills. There are reasons, of course, why there are age prerequisites for such tasks as voting, driving, alcohol consumption, or entering into a legally binding contract - a lack of such laws could put young people in danger of both physical harm and being taken advantage of by the unscrupulous. What really determines a person's ability to take these things upon his- or herself is that nebulous quality of maturity, not the strict, legally defined quantity of age, but in such a huge congregation of humanity as the United States, rules of thumb must be adopted for efficiency and certainty. Black and white situations make life easy for lawyers.

However, the regimentalized age groupings of virtually all "education" in the US certainly serves no educational purpose, at least not if you are willing to acknowledge the oft-avoided fact that while we may all be equal under the law, we are not the same. Stratification into groups of age peers leads people to conceptualize an "age" as a more-or-less homogenous group, as evidenced by the admonition, "act your age!" The characteristics of the majority at a particular age become the way a person of that age is "expected" to act, and children who diverge from the norm are not seen as just a minority, which they are, but instead as somehow non- or sub-human, since the group of their age peers for them is their entire reality.

Traditional power hierarchies are first taught and acted on the battlefield of the playground. Older children use their greater physical abilities to support their authority. Strength is power. Athleticism is power.

Girls gather by the lockers and begin the interplay of inclusion and exclusion. Are we still friends with her today? Social skill is power. Popularity is power. Attractiveness is power.

But what of the children who possess that quality which the school was created to seek out and develop - the connection with an otherworld of creative experience that imparts a passion for writing, or for art, or music, or innovation and invention? The capacity for knowledge, and more importantly that skill that allows one to interpret and rearrange it in ways as yet unimagined? An empathy for other living creatures and a passion for promoting their well-being? A profound understanding of the human psyche and a probing questioning at the meaning of existence?

Intelligence is weakness. Vision is weakness. Creativity is weakness. Because they make you sensitive -- and sensitive people are the natural prey of the powerful.

There are two kinds of strength in people... the strength of a person who has never been broken, and the strength of a person who has been broken, and healed. One is stronger than the other, but also more difficult. All too often, the healing process is interrupted, just like the healing of my jaw, by the unrelenting demands of life. What results is a person healed crooked; like a bone healed crooked, slowly rubbing away in all the wrong places, degenerating until it can no longer function. The only thing to do is go in and painfully break it again.

Copyright 2003 by Adela


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