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Let’s Check Our Ageism at the Door When Voting for President


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Let’s Check Our Ageism at the Door When Voting for President

Commentary by Paul Graves | FāVS News

In spite of what your perception might be of this commentary’s title, I’m not really writing about partisan politics! Sure, a bombshell of partisan politics exploded on Feb. 9 when Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report on Joe Biden hit the news.

Hur’s report was supposed to focus on whether charges related to Biden’s holding onto classified documents would be filed.

But the inclusion of serious allegations of the President’s cognitive (mental) health was the marquee takeaway that reporters drooled over. Hur said if the President was put on trial, a jury wouldn’t likely convict him because he’s a “sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.”

Why was that even included in Hur’s report? A political stab?

Perhaps. But I think his report was straight-out ageism.

A cartoon wife says to her husband, “I’m going to vote for the honest and kind senile man, not the senile man who’s racist, greedy and self-serving.”

She too fell into the ageism trap — the bias against, the discrimination of, persons based on their age.

The reactions on all sides of the Hur report — and subsequent criticisms of the advanced ages of both Biden and Trump — are driven by politics. But I suggest they are deeper than opportunistic partisan politics. They smack of the widespread cultural bias called ageism.

Ageism Is not Strictly Bias Against the Elderly

Ageism happens to young and old alike. Though it’s much bigger news when it involves the two presumptive presidential candidates.

I’ve worked with older adults since my parish days and working in nursing homes as a social worker. So I have first-hand experience with older people, including myself.

Proverbs 20:29 reminds us: “Youth may be admired for vigor, but gray hair gives prestige to old age.” (MSG)

For years, my consulting ministry’s mantra has been: “Gray hair and wrinkles are not a fashion statement. They are a values statement.”

Ageism disrespects and distorts that human value. We often distort our own aging, and we often distort other people’s aging. So let me be clear: “Aging” is not the same thing as “dementing.”

Aging and Dementia Are not the Same

Normal aging can include slower mental processing, but routine memory, skills and knowledge often improve with age. Dementia, on the other hand, is not a normal outcome of aging. It’s caused by some kind of disease process that affects the brain. But aging and dementia aren’t the same.

It’s easy to quickly point to verbal and mental gaffes when we see both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Come on folks! They’re both old.

The causes of either man’s verbal flubs are complex. Admittedly, while I choose not to dismiss either man because of ageism, their physical and cognitive health is an issue for me to some degree.

But when we see their public gaffes, we’d be wise to not listen to pundits and reporters looking for “gotchas” on one candidate or the other. We’d be wiser to first see how our personal age-related fear colors our perception of them.

My standard for choosing between them has far less to do with their age. It has more to do with their competency in how they conduct themselves as men, and as former and current presidents. I observe how they live the values they say they have — like how they treat other persons with respect, compassion.

I watch them deal with political leaders, regular “people on the street,” or perceived outsiders. I see their actions reflect what they value as men, and how they value other people.

Age is far less an issue for me than their character and their competency. Where does age fit into your own evaluation of this pivotal election year?    

The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.      

Paul Graves
Paul Graves
Paul Graves is a retired and re-focused United Methodist pastor and a long-time resident of Sandpoint, Idaho, where he formerly served on city council and mayor. His second career is in geriatric social work, and since 2005 he's been the Lead Geezer-in-Training of Elder Advocates, a consulting and teaching ministry on aging issues. Since 1992, Graves has been a volunteer chaplain for Bonner Community Hospice. His columns regularly appear in The Spokesman-Review's Faith and Values section, and he also writes the Dear Geezer column for the Bonner County Daily Bee and is the host of the bi-weekly Geezer Forum on aging issues in Sandpoint.

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Andy Pope
Andy Pope
4 months ago

Fantastic! I’m aging, but that doesn’t mean I’m “dementing” for God’s sake. Sharing!

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