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. ( 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.


  1. Excellent post! As an history teacher, back in the day, I like the way you used Lincoln and MLK to compare the battle to fight ageism


    • Thanks, Ellen. History is a great teacher for many reasons. It (hopefully)keeps us from repeating mistakes and guides us in the ways that work on similar issues today. The only catch is that we must be mindful of what history has to say to us. – Kathy



    Thank you very much for citing ageism as a civil rights etc. issue. But I do believe you have to do some railing against the various and myriad examples of prejudice. maybe you remember that I have been banging this drum since early 70’s thanks to NOW Older Women’s Liberation Committee – long gone unfortunately as is that once strong movement against ageism mostly then as applied to women. I have file cabinets filled with related material – and then my own 40 years of writing. .HELP. I do feel so strongly that media .entertainment and arts which so determine customs and views are hugely to blame. And only I seem to be banging this drum in my now bi weekly column and afraid to do too much of it there too. thoughts for next column include something like I dream of a world where no longer young people are not judged by the tone of their skin but by the content of their character.. I am also an integenerationalist (sp?) especially related to families where the vast separation between adult sons and daughters and their mothers and fathers is accepted and advanced by our society I get a lot of flak from this mission. We never hear about the grandmother in the White House and now at election time, I again note how candidates should have people with canes, walker and wheelchair on their campaign trails. Not only should the spouse and offspring be visible but elder parents/grandparents etcetera. First Sunday after Labor Day is also Grandparents Day. It’s a lonely business and especially at this late stage and condition of my life… maybe we can talk – 212 288 0578 and hope you will read my column though editor didn’t catch the typos. I wanted also to say that this traffic tragedy would have made the news other than my column had Belle Moser, age 90, been a Brearley or Chapin school girl student. Iwill forward the column soon. heartfelt thanks, Kathy,and strength and courage in/for THE MISSION. Bette (Dewing) earlier columns may come up now if you search Bette Dewing. Web site was down for awhile. a message dated 8/29/2013 4:25:04 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,


    • Bette – A connection of mine on LinkedIn shared these resources with me. Perhaps you can check them out and know that you are one of a growing number of people doing something about ageism: “I wanted to share just in case you are not familiar with the Conscious Aging movement. Particularly do you know Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s From Aging to Sage–ing. and the group that grew out of it Sage-ing International (
      Sage-ing International: Empowering Elders
      Sage-ing International is a community of elders and elders-to-be around the globe, whose mission is to create a world which respects and honors elders by:
      – supporting each other in growing into the role of sage—the wise elders so desperately needed in our families, our neighborhoods, and our world
      – offering workshops and creating inspirational and educational materials
      empowering elders to serve our communities and the world
      – inviting our members and friends to be in community with each other.

      There is also now a Conscious Aging Alliance ( )”



    • Bette, The following link will be helpful to you if you wish to start a consciousness raising group on ageism in your area: You may also be interested in signing up for Carol’s blog at: You will find a couple references to post on my blog at “Refined by Age” in Digest #22 as well as other good resources and articles. Let’s age well together and help others do so! – Kathy


  3. Margaret Blundo

    Is there a list of corporations who have had multiple charges of ageism?


    • I don’t know the answer to that. I would have to research it. I do know that ageism in employment is very hard to prove.


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