How to be an Effective Change Agent in the War on Ageism
Ageism is very much a human and civil rights issue. To learn how to be an effective change agent in the war on ageism, we only need to refer to history. President Lincoln was successful in liberating African-Americans from slavery. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued to fight for the rights and equality of those liberated from slavery. We can learn much from studying these two men and the qualities they brought to the human and civil rights fight. There are also unsung heroes who are currently in the war on ageism that have the qualities and wisdom to share with others who want to be effective change agents. Here are some of the things needed to be an effective change agent:
1) Perseverance – The fight to abolish slavery and keep the union together was hard-fought. Over 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil war according to a study conducted in 1889, with a recent study suggesting it might have been as high as 850,000. (Civilwar.org) According to the Civil War Center, “The Civil War was arguably the most important event in the history of the United States. The conflict fundamentally altered the relationship of the states to the federal government, freed four million slaves, and changed the socio-economic development of the nation.” After losing 51,000 lives in the battle of Gettysburg alone, there was great pressure on President Lincoln to give up the fight. In his famous Gettysburg address, his shortest speech while in office, President Lincoln said, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…”
2) Focus on the Positive Potential – When Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) spoke of the advancement of civil liberties for African-Americans, he didn’t focus on the unjust things that were happening. His focus was on a dream of a world where racism didn’t exist. His famous, “I Have a Dream” speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC 50 years ago was attended by people of all races.
3) Compassion – As was evident, both President Lincoln and MLK showed great compassion for the purpose they were fighting for. Having compassion is the ability to feel sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. The second part of the word compassion is passion. People who want to be an effective change agent in the war on ageism must have bridled, endless passion for the cause. Passion is a strong and barely controllable emotion. That’s why I emphasize “bridled.”
4) Focus on the Mission – It is essential to “keep your eye on the prize” or to focus on the mission of a movement. President Lincoln reiterated the mission of the Civil War in his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Many people through defensiveness of the status quo will try to blur the mission of a movement. Don’t fall into their trap of distraction which is a defensive/denial mechanism.
5) Choose your Battles Wisely – The war on ageism will be filled with many battles. I would like to share what a mentor of mine in the field of aging, Richard Ambrosius, Principal, Positive Aging, LLC, had to say about the war on ageism. “To coin a favorite military expression of mine (ask yourself), ‘Is this a hill you want to die on?’ If we could eliminate ageism simply by speaking out one time or challenging what we perceive to be ageist, there would be no ageism. This isn’t a one time battle but a long-standing war, and what we need are guerrilla tactics…hit the enemy and move on…hit the enemy and move on…” In many cases, people may have their minds made up and nothing you can do after the first attempted round of education will sway them – no matter how you try to convince or cajole them. I’ve seen a question posed on ageism turn into endless bickering, and it was simply a waste of time.
6) Patience – Societal change does not happen quickly or easily. Ageism infects so many institutions and social conventions that it will take a great deal of time to turn the ship of ageism around. People in the war on ageism would do well to remember this quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
AGEISM: Prejudice or discrimination against a particular age-group and especially the elderly.