McKenna Meyers is a writer and a life coach who writes articles on social issues including things like discrimination.
Adapting to Change
No matter how often you color your hair, get Botox injections, and eat avocado toast, you seem old and outdated if you don't keep up with the latest language and cultural shifts happening around you. If you still refer to Asians as Orientals, objectify co-workers by complimenting their hotness, and think gender-fluid involves drinking lots of water, you need to stop rocking the Lycra leggings and undertake a cultural makeover. Don't resist by saying you're not into political correctness. That's just a cop-out, arrogance, or sheer laziness.
As a 54-year-old mother of two teenage sons, I know firsthand the challenges of keeping up-to-date in our rapidly changing world. When I was a kid, everything was black and white: boys were boys, girls were girls, and everyone was either gay or straight (if you called yourself bisexual, you were considered truly radical). Today, we have new terms. Non-binary is for those who identify as neither male nor female. Cisgender is for someone like me who was born a female biologically and comfortably identifies as a woman (or a biological male who comfortably identifies as a man). Transgender is for someone who was born biologically male or female but identifies as the opposite gender.
For our mental and emotional well-being, we older folks should make an effort to adapt and stay connected to younger generations instead of isolating ourselves within our own like-minded peer group. After all, it keeps us vital members of society rather than being put out to pasture before our time. Here are six things we should stop saying and doing because they make us seem old and outdated.
1. Using Obsolete Labels
To stay current, we must accept that words matter and language is always changing. We must remain flexible and not resist new labels. Fortunately, the internet is a wonderful tool to keep us up-to-date on terms—many of which are actually old ones that have recently been reclaimed. Today, for example, young gay people prefer queer, while some older ones still find it offensive. Both young and old dislike homosexuality, saying it's used as a pejorative by conservative pundits who stretch out the five syllables in an exaggerated fashion.
While still frequently spoken, the once politically-correct term African American is now rejected by many who prefer to be called Black. Those we now call little people were once deemed midgets and dwarfs, while those with intellectual disabilities were once labeled retarded. When in doubt, it's always an act of compassion to ask what term the person prefers. Purposefully using an outdated label is bigoted and unkind.
2. Dismissing Kids' Food Allergies
When we older folks were in school, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a staple in lunch boxes across the country. We gobbled down cupcakes at birthday parties and drank whole milk with every meal. Today, however, many youngsters have serious (and even life-threatening) allergies to common foods such as nuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, and wheat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with food allergies rose 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.
My father-in-law refuses to acknowledge his grandson’s serious food allergies, thinking it’s just a bunch of nonsense. His daughter and her husband can no longer trust their son in his care because he refuses to educate himself on the issue. Now their relationship with him is strained, and grandpa and grandson are missing out on many fun times together. While scientists struggle to understand the cause of this dramatic increase in childhood allergies, we older people should realize they’re a real thing and not “all in the head,” like my father-in-law insists.
3. Glorifying the Past
When you’re stuck in a narrative that everything was better “in the good old days,” you seem ignorant of how women and minorities were treated in history. The past wasn’t better for blacks during slavery, Jim Crow, and before civil rights legislation. The past wasn’t better for women when they didn’t have access to contraceptives, were considered old maids if they didn’t marry, and were discouraged from pursuing higher education and high-paying careers.
The past wasn’t better for gays when they had to hide their sexuality, couldn’t marry, and faced discrimination at school, in the workplace, and while trying to find housing. Listening to someone glorify the past and ignore all the progress we’ve made is a bore and makes younger people tune out in disgust.
4. Not Caring About the Environment
When older folks brush off climate change and continue to live a life of over-consumption, they're being insensitive to what young people face today. The warming of our planet concerns them greatly, leading many to adopt dramatic lifestyle changes. To decrease their carbon footprint, they walk, ride bikes, or use public transportation rather than drive. Some refuse to buy a car. They're adopting restrictive diets, becoming vegetarians or vegans, so more trees aren't cut down for grazing cattle (scientists say 18% of all greenhouse emissions are associated with meat consumption worldwide).
Perhaps the biggest burden placed on young adults is a new pressure not to have children. Scientists say the most effective way to reduce emissions is for humans to have fewer offspring. Unlike previous generations who were told to go forth and populate the earth, today's young people are receiving the opposite message. Some of them believe having kids is now an act of selfishness and may have dire consequences for our planet.
So it's not enough for us older folks to think we're doing our fair share by using cloth grocery bags and buying low-energy light bulbs. We need to be sensitive to what younger people face during this critical time and accept some blame for being poor stewards of the earth.
5. Rejecting Popular Culture
Rap is not everyone's cup of tea, nor is the current crop of superhero movies showing on movie screens across the nation. But when we turn up our noses at everything in popular culture, it makes us seem like old fogies. To connect with younger people and make ourselves feel a part of society, it's important to appreciate some aspects of contemporary culture. Whether it's listening to a pop music station, watching trendy television shows, or taking an interest in the latest fashions, we must keep current to connect with younger people. Otherwise, we isolate from our own kind and become close-minded.
My 67-year-old neighbor, Joan, has three teenage granddaughters who love everything about the Kardashians. Joan would listen to them chatter about Kim, Khloe, Kendall, and Kylie and felt left out of the conversation. She decided to start watching the weekly Kardashian reality show to help her understand. Soon she got hooked and now connects with her granddaughters in a fun and frivolous way but also imparts important lessons about the superficiality of fame and fortune and the pitfalls of the selfie generation.
There are many stereotypes of the past that are now seen as bigoted: the gay hairdresser with the pronounced lisp, the lazy Mexican who naps all day, the hippy-dippy vegetarian who smokes weed and meditates, and the stupid, racist Southerner who drives a truck and guzzles beer. Many of us older folks, who grew up in a less diverse society, got our impressions of various groups from television. I grew up in Oakland, California, where I never came in contact with Southerners. I only knew them from shows I watched: Hee-Haw, Gomer Pyle, and Beverly Hillbillies. It's no wonder I developed the notion they were all dumb and gullible but with hearts of gold.
Unlike us older folks, young people today have grown up having daily contact with a diverse group of individuals at school, at work, on sports teams, and at the mall. They rely on their personal experiences with gays, Latinos, Southerners, Muslims, and blacks, not stereotypical depictions from television. They understand much better than we do that humans are more alike than different.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2017 McKenna Meyers