Take four minutes to watch this short film (which won first place in the Assisted Living Federation of America’s International Short Film contest) about the generation gap:
The piece was created by Jon Byron, a 26-year old film student seeking to pay tribute to his relationship with his grandfather, and I am so glad he did it.
I stumbled upon Byron’s film via a blog post by Rick Banas, of BMA Management, Ltd. (a senior living management company). He opens by stating, “One of the most pervasive stereotypes in our society today is How We Think About Older Adults.” He goes on to talk about ageism (a term coined in the late 60s by gerontologist Dr. Robert Butler), about our youth-obsessed culture, and ALFA’s efforts to combat age discrimination.
All valid points, but I think Banas is missing something here…
There are two sides to every story. And Byron’s film showed this symbiosis impeccably.
Yes, ageism exists, but so does the reverse of it, which is something that I admired in particular about Mind the Gap. I love that we heard the voice of the older man and the younger man. I love the fact that both of them were basically thinking the same thing about the other, at least in terms of being misunderstood. I love that both of them tried to start the conversation. And both men were tuning out the world around them – one by removing a hearing aid, the other by inserting an MP3 earbud.
Given this beautifully balanced approach (wherein lies the solution to ageism, in my opinion), I was a bit thrown off by this quote at the end of Rick Banas’ post: “In less than three minutes, Mind the Gap shows how misunderstandings between generations can lay the foundation for stereotypes about seniors.” (spoken by Richard Grimes, President and CEO of ALFA, at a premier showing of the film during an ALFA conference)
Well, yes. But that’s only one side of the story, and therefore, not a complete understanding of the issue (although I imagine that at a conference about assisted living, the focus was on seniors, so perhaps that is why Mr. Grimes spoke accordingly). Nevertheless, his words really challenged me to tease this one out.
As long as the younger person/generation – or our “youth-obsessed culture” – is viewed as the enemy, we can kiss eliminating ageism goodbye. Discrimination works both ways. And, as Byron’s piece showed, there are certainly an equal amount of stereotypes held about young people by older people. (Remember when the older man scoffed at the noisy young people walking/driving by?)
Wouldn’t it make more sense to say: “Mind the Gap shows how misunderstandings between people of different ages can lay the foundation for stereotypes about people of different ages?”
I think so. Because as a young person who admires elders more than I can fully express in words alone, I take offense to those who would lump me in with the so-called younger generation, who is often pinned as careless, disrespectful, apathetic, lacking direction, selfish, etc. In reality, those words don’t apply to most young people. For starters, look at Jon Byron, the film’s director. The whole point of creating the film was to do something that paid tribute to his grandfather. Certainly not a selfish motivation, if you ask me.
Really, if you asked most 20- or 30-somethings what they think about “old people”, they would probably tell you about a grandparent they adore, a former teacher they still keep in touch with, or an older neighbor they admire. I’m sure they wouldn’t say, “Yeah, they’re all deaf and drive slowly and use walkers with tennis balls on the bottom.” And if they do, they certainly have a lot to learn.
Every day, there are elders in all corners of the world who are discriminated against, and that upsets me greatly. I do everything in my power to “buck the system”, to advocate for elders when others might turn their backs, to share my passion for and admiration of anyone considered “old”. Many cultures also follow the tradition of “respect your elders”, as well they should. But have we ever heard anyone say, “Respect the youth”?
So if you don’t want young people to stereotype seniors, don’t stereotype young people back – and vice versa. It begins with you.
Mind the Gap shows us that we all have work to do to shatter stereotypes on both sides of the chasm in order to bridge the generation gap.
Even Ralph Waldo Emerson agrees:
“I suffer whenever I see that common sight of a parent or senior imposing his opinion and way of thinking and being on a young soul to which he is totally unfit. Cannot we let people be themselves and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make another you. One’s enough.”
How do you combat ageism in your home, workplace, or community? What did you think of Mind the Gap? Share your thoughts here!
- Michelle Seitzer