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Age-Friendly Discussion Groups

Respect & Social Inclusion

The ongoing Age-Friendly Discussion Groups project brings you topics of interest to older adults. We look forward to hearing from your group!

The aspect of community we are exploring this month is “respect and social inclusion.” What does this mean to you?

Age Friendly Seattle, a City of Seattle initiative that is part of AARP’s national network of age-friendly communities, states that respect and inclusion are important components of its overall vision: “Everyone wants to feel valued. Age Friendly Seattle celebrates and draws upon the wisdom and experience of older adults, encourages intergenerational and multicultural understanding, and works to eliminate ageism and ensure consistent levels of high-quality service for all ages.”

The city’s action items include ensuring greater city employee awareness of aging issues; strengthening support for LGBTQ elders in Seattle; and increasing community understanding of dementia. For me, “social inclusion” is another way of saying “diversity.” Perhaps we aren’t lonely, but who are we including in our circle? There’s a fascinating book entitled The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart, which examines the demographic trend of moving to live near others who share our beliefs. It makes sense, of course; it’s often easier and more comfortable being around people who agree with us. But what do we lose in exchange? I heard it put this way recently, “Are we a club or are we a community?” A club is where we all agree, where we’re much the same while a community has diverse viewpoints. When we do have community in that sense, how do we show respect for those with whom we differ? A book that resonates with me is, I’m Right and You’re An Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up.

My mind often considers diversity as racial and ethnic, but I’ve become more sensitized to age diversity as well. We live in a very youth-oriented society. How many times have you heard or seen the phrase “anti-aging” lately? Ageism is not just in our language, but in pervasive visual images. It’s challenging to come up with even stock photographs of a gathering of people who appear to be over the age of 50, let alone of different races. Why is that? This should not be hard; surely such gatherings occur in lots of different places yet it’s difficult to find a representational group (If your group has some photos I can use, let’s talk!).

According to a 2017 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is, indeed, ageism in hiring, unfortunately. Listening to people (especially women), ageism is not just in the workplace. Female seniors often report feeling “invisible.” For a well-documented book on this topic, read Ashton Applewhite’s This Chair Rocks, A Manifesto against Ageism or check out her TED talk or website, www.thischairrocks.com.

There’s also economic diversity. We see this in the wealth disparities of our region, such as those living in tents, while others are able to afford mansions. Where I grew up, outside of King County, the people in my everyday life were more similar to each other and I took similarities for granted. But our region is increasingly diverse, and I believe this requires efforts toward greater sensitivity.

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