Aged and Alone?

A quick look at the European Social Survey’s most recent research on attitudes, behaviour and beliefs, prompted by an article in yesterday’s Observer. It reveals the opinions and experience of 55,000 people across more than 30 countries. The newspaper’s headline reads ‘UK among Europe’s worst countries for ageism’. According to the survey only Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have more people who feel they are ignored or patronised because of ageism.

I am surprised that the survey reveals that countries which I would have imagined have a clearer social and family structure than Britain, are in fact more subject to ageism than we are. It is structure which we lack; a unifying social consensus that is absent from so much of civic and political life. Perhaps it always has been, but is especially noticeable today.

It is so difficult to have a balanced view on ageism because there are so many reasons for it, and I suspect a lot of them derive from the attitudes of elderly people themselves.

It’s so easy to pull up the shutters of your life as you get older. So many things you can no longer do, so many appetites that can never be satisfied, so many of the signposts of your life by which you have always recognised yourself that are no longer there. And some of the people who have loved you and whom you have loved are no longer here to company with.

It’s no wonder that we too easily behave like snails, more at home in our shells than out of them. And there is something about using what energy we have to keep going rather than reaching out to others. I am constantly amazed at the sheer fortitude of some older people as they shop in town or heave themselves onto buses, frail often with disability as well as age. ‘Still taking the pills’ said someone yesterday as I asked her how she was.

There’s a sort of stoicism about ageing that is really rather wonderful. But it can, as I suggest, shut you into yourself

People of all ages can be very kind but I sense that there is a suspicion of older people – or a sheer lack of interest – amongst the young, and as far as young families are concerned, well they are too busy unless there are some grandparents to keep an eye on. Having spent much of my working life amongst the young, that alienation is painful. I would like to be in their company, but their interests and way of communicating creates a division between us. What’s to talk about?

Here’s something which bridges the gaps: the protest of mainly young people against the mindless capitalism of City bankers in London. They are camping -horrors of horrors – outside St. Paul’s Cathedral (the stafff of whom have been woefully inadequate to deal with the situation).

Their cause has made generation unimportant. Many of us older ones are entirely with them. Their adversaries are ours as well; the greed they identify and campaign against is a sin against society that affects the whole body politic.

So – against ageism as we are, we salute the young!