“Age is just a number.”
“You’re only as old as you feel.”
As such phrases reveal, age permeates our culture. After race and gender, it is the first thing we assess when meeting someone new. Subsequently, our perception of her or his age, along with our stereotypes about it, shape how we interact with that person.
Most of us harbor subconscious biases toward members of specific age strata, such as child, teen, young adult, middle aged and old. Once included in one of these categories, we are subject to potentially erroneous presumptions.
For example, many look askance at an older person who is romantically involved with someone much younger, and vice versa. Their bias is that this is only acceptable in platonic circumstances, such as teacher and pupil or coach and athlete.
Then there is the belief among some business leaders that older workers are less desirable, presuming they have reduced energy, ambition and intellectual acumen. Similar stereotypes can bedevil younger workers, as well, the prejudice being they are too inexperienced or immature to be solid employees.
Behavioral science shows quite the opposite is often the case, but biases are largely unmoved by facts.
Regrettably, ageism, as we call it, even shows up in my profession. Surveys indicate many mental health types, particularly younger ones, view their elderly clients as incapable of change or “set in their ways.”
This flies in the face of solid neuroscience research showing that our brains, and the behaviors they create, are malleable (neuroplasticity). What’s more, it ignores the potential power of extended life experience (often called “wisdom”) to support personal transformation.
Now, when it comes to a forming a…