It’s Time – to Listen to Our Elders
Enthused by the upcoming Radical Independence Conference, Scotland is once again buzzing about the possibility of another #Indy Referendum. At the moment, the busy bees are mostly online. The crucial debate is about how to engage ‘the grey vote’, i.e. how to stop the ‘old dears’ worrying about their pensions. Although some voices are raised in defence of these fears (at the last Referendum the ambiguity of both sides concerning post-Independence economics was widely criticised) no-one is questioning this language. (There are some voices raised against the more recent vilification of older voters in the EU Referendum.) Instead, various strategies are being put forward to convince our elders that their fears are groundless. No-one is suggesting that we listen to them. What could our elders possibly know about economics, about risk, about national identity, about independence?
Those now in their 80s will remember WW2 and those a decade younger the economic hardship afterwards, the gender injustice caused by monied class interests as factory owners rehired returning servicemen and sacked their women workers. Those now in their 60s remember that ‘flower power’ was what caused the bloodless revolution in Portugal – when every radio station played Land of Hope and Glory to celebrate the courage of soldiers putting carnations in the muzzle of their guns and refusing to fire on their people. All of these people will remember marching in the first CND demonstrations, joining the protests at Aldermaston, at Greenham Common, at Faslane. These were the decades of the ecumenical movement, which laid the basis for anti-sectarian understanding. Our elders protested against the Falklands War; in the late 80’s one in five people in Scotland defied the Tories by refusing to pay the Poll Tax. These are the people who are being disparaged today; being told to shut up and listen.
in the late 80’s one in five people in Scotland defied the Tories by refusing to pay the Poll Tax. These are the people who are being disparaged today; being told to shut up and listen.
I first encountered ageism at Stirling University, when was in my 30s. I already had a few degrees, was fluent in several languages having lived and taught abroad, and founded the university capoeira club. The president of the sports union told me to get myself nominated for a ‘blue’ but I was too diffident to ask someone to do that. So the shaming and contempt I experienced (in public, not in private) from, mostly, younger gay men, came as a great shock to me. I’d just come back from Brazil and most of my teaching was done in Latin cultures in which elders have a respected place in the family home. I was a member of the Afro-Caribbean Society and found my black friends refreshingly free of ageism. I still do.
There are many psychological reasons for our phobias and some may have a basis in prudence (it took me a while to get used to spiders when I first returned to the UK) but ageism must surely be the most stupid of all prejudices: we are despising a person that we have already been or are (hopefully) becoming. Ageism can also be internalised and it is no news to say that women especially are under tremendous pressure from the cosmetics industry to erase any sign of ageing. This phobia is not now confined to women, a gay friend (tall, handsome and athletic, with a partner, good family relationship, his own house, a secure well-paid job and good friends) sabotaged plans for his 30th birthday because he was ashamed to be that old. With heterosexual men becoming increasingly objectified in the media, ageist self-hatred is on the rise among all young White, Northern Europeans and in their cultural diaspora. Which, as young people become more and more globalised, means everywhere.
“Valar morghulis”, quotes one of the characters in George RR Martin’s deftly-written series A Games of Thrones (don’t just watch it, read it!): all of us will die. And many of us will fall ill in the process. And our elders are more prone to illness and death. So we shun them. These people and these inconvenient truths. Yet folktale after folktale warn about what happens when we get rid of the old folk, when we do not heed their warnings about what is to come – because nothing is new under the sun. Miss Marple is not alone in thinking that when you live in a wee village, you understand the world.
“Valar morghulis”, quotes one of the characters in George RR Martin’s deftly-written series A Games of Thrones (don’t just watch it, read it!): all of us will die. And many of us will fall ill in the process. And our elders are more prone to illness and death. So we shun them. These people and these inconvenient truths. Yet folktale after folktale warn about what happens when we get rid of the old folk
It’s not time to tell our elders that their fears are groundless: it’s time to listen to them. Not just to their fears but also to their hopes and dreams; to their life experience. The Scottish Government made a huge blunder over their forced imposition of the hugely unpopular and draconian Named Person scheme – the massive public opposition to which united conservative Christians and radical civil liberties activists. Now, belatedly, and with absolutely no apology, they have launched a national survey, so they can listen (and email spam as there’s no opt-out).
The Radical Independence movement needs to stop equating youth and innovation with virtue, and old age and tradition with prejudice. The energy and enthusiasm of the young is a wonderful resource for an independent Scotland (that I and my 90 year-old mother will be voting for); so is the life experience and wisdom of the old.