Why Old Is Gold
“I took Uncle to the auto shop for the job. When the guy looked at him, he said Uncle’s too old and he can’t work. I don’t know why people underestimate him. He didn’t even try, just judged him right away”.
I got this text from my husband last week who was assisting his Uncle find a job here in New York. His uncle had just emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan, and he wanted to find a job as a mechanic. When my husband took his Uncle to introduce him to someone he knows regarding a job, this scenario occurred.
We hear a lot about racism, sexism, socialism and several of these “isms”, but how many know what ageism is? Ageism is defined by Merriam Webster as “prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly”. A lot of people don’t realize it, but the elderly is one group that gets highly discriminated against, yet it rarely gets any media attention.
I have seen it many times in the American culture where people will look at an elderly person and automatically think they are not capable of working for their company. I saw it in my own father-in-law; he was in the same situation as my husband’s uncle and he couldn’t find a job because everyone assumed he was “too old”. It frustrated my father-in-law a lot; he felt useless and it made him not want to live in America.
It’s against the law in the United States to discriminate against someone because of age. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it’s against the law to discriminate against anyone over the age of 40. However knowingly or unknowingly, many companies do not want to consider someone that they deem is “old” for employment. Recently, a 71 year old man won a lawsuit in Maine because his employer would make derogatory comments about seniors in front of him and this man was fired from his job; he sued and won.
Some of you reading might think “I’ve never discriminated against the elderly!” but chances are, you might have. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you ever been behind an elderly person in traffic, that might be driving 20 miles under the speed limit, only for you to zoom past them, look at them, shake your head and say “of course it’s an old person!”?
- Have you ever been on line at a grocery store where the cashier is older than you, only for them to be a little slow at ringing up your items, and you wished you had gotten that younger guy in the next aisle over?
- Have you ever walked past an elderly person who might have a slight odor to them, and you walk away in disgust thinking “all old people smell really bad”?
- Have you ever encountered your elderly neighbor who likes to tell stories, and just want to run away because you can’t stand it when they talk to you?
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, at one point in your life, then you have discriminated against the elderly.
The elderly is a group of people that we, as a society, can learn a lot from. They have lived lives full of trials, tests and successes. You will hear stories of people who have survived wars, famine and extreme cases of poverty only to make a name for themselves, in their communities, and families. So, why have they become a population that is neglected and not respected?
I don’t know the exact answer to this honestly. I work with the elderly as a case manager, and the majority of my clients live alone with very little familial support. These clients have strained relationships with their children, they don’t go out (all my clients are homebound) and they no longer live the lives they used to. Yes, a lot of this has to do with their physical health that has severely deteriorated. A lot of my clients cannot move around anymore and take loads of medications, but if an elderly person wants to be recognized in society and want to be valued, why can’t we see that it happens?
One of the hardest aspects of my job is understanding why my clients aren’t in communication with their children. I try not to judge, but I often wonder “Why can’t the children just take care of their parents?”. Because I come from a culture that emphasis the sons taking care of the parents, it is foreign for me to see a child allow their parents to live alone, especially at 90+ years old. These clients do receive help from home health attendants, but receiving care from your family is definitely a different experience. I do understand that some elderly parents are difficult to look after, especially if both a husband and wife work. Being a caregiver isn’t an easy job either, and sometimes for the safety of the elderly person it is best for them to receive assistance elsewhere. Each situation is different and I am beginning to see that aspect of elder care giving.
Aside from the culture, Islam itself discusses the respect an elderly person must receive. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) clearly stated in a Hadith that “He is not one of us who does not show tenderness to the young and who does not show respect to the elder.” [Hadith from at-Tirmidhi]. Even if one may have their prejudices and preconceived notions about the elderly, respect is a must.
My husband’s uncle isn’t even that “old”, nor is my father-in-law. They’re both either approaching 60 years or in their early 60s. If they have the desire to work and they are skilled to do it, I don’t understand why it’s a problem for someone to hire them. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that, and people like them just shrug it off and look for the employee, hoping it’s a young man that can do the job quicker.
The next time you see an elderly person and before you judge them, remember that one day you will be in their position. One day you will need someone’s assistance, you will be walking slow across the busy intersection and you will not know how to drive fast because your vision is deteriorating. Don’t get frustrated, but rather be empathetic. And most importantly, teach your children to be empathetic as well. Because if you show them you don’t value and respect the elderly, chances they won’t value you when you get older.
If you ever get the chance to be a friendly visitor to a home-bound elder, take that opportunity. Spending one afternoon with a senior will really open your eyes to a world you probably weren’t born to see. To find a friendly visitor program near you, contact your states Department of the Aging. A quick Google search should assist you, inshaAllah.
By: @mir_mah2 (MW Contributor)